Sex, Race, Money and the American Experience

While there has been a good bit of conversation about the possibility that Hillary Clinton may become the first woman to assume the Presidency of the United States the United Kingdom has in fact elected a new female Prime Minister, the second in their history. If Hillary Clinton is elected then for at least a little while the two countries would have something more in common than merely female heads of government. She is also the current Home Secretary which is an analogous position to the that of the Secretary of State of the United States.  both she and Hillary Clinton have been the beneficiary of elite educational institutions in their countries. Doubtless one could list many other similarities but in fact the two women strike me as profoundly different people produced in part by profoundly different political systems. The sexual contexts are not so profoundly different but upon looking closer at same sex marriage law in Britain and the USA one finds very different regimes and oppositions, likewise on abortion, sperm banking and literally a host of other issues. Whether it is better or not there is very often a capacity to compromise and reach legislative splitting of the difference in the UK. In addition rule by judicial review is much more limited. For those reasons as well as others May represents a different kind of feminist synthesis that the one Hillary Clinton has long been associated with in this country.

 

Theresa May is a thoroughgoing enough politician who is committed to the electoral process and aware of it. Theresa May did not become presumptive  Prime Minister in a general election but rather in the election for Conservative Party Leadership when David Cameron stepped down after failing to keep Britain in the European Union. This is not unusual, in the 24 times that the UK has changed Prime Minister in the last century half of those occasions did not involve a general election. The leadership election came about because Cameron had put too much political capital on the BRexit referendum to continue in office when the Leavers defeated him. However, as Britain has recently passed the Fixed Term Parliament Act, this change in leadership is not likely to cause a general election to be held early although it may…  This is something not only unusual but  new for Brits to adjust to, no row of whether or not to have a vote of no confidence is at all assured of amounting to much in the new set of rules.  In the meanwhile the final two people produced by the first rounds of the Conservative Party leadership chase presented the rank and file membership with two candidates to choose from both of whom were female and they have chosen Prime Minister Theresa May. Assuming Royal Assent and Her Majesty asking the woman to take the job as she did for Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher back in the day, then May will take the job in a place in the Queen’s presence sometime after Cameron officially resigns  following tomorrow’s (Wednesday, July 13) Prime Minister’s Questions. A bit of what she says about her own vision of her administration of Her Majesty’s Government can be read here. She appears to be sincere enough about bringing the benefits of her party’s vision for Britain to more people of more modest means. In America there is a lot of discussion about the wage gap between men and women and how it affects families. There is less discussion of increasing morbidity among men, declining employment among men and the myriad of other sexually related disasters afflicting primarily meant in this country — affecting men in distinction to women.  One senses that in Britain they are facing the struggles we face with a feminism that is less anti-mail than our version is in a number of ways. That has to be put into the context of two female prime ministers and the fact that British suffragettes really fought violently to bring about change early in the twentieth century. They of course suffered real violence and the disorder of their movement would make and interesting comparison to the chaos I see in the Black Lives Matter movement — but that is beyond the scope of this post.

I am quite sure that the struggle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for leadership of our country will in part be affected by how Americans believe a man or a woman would respond to the violence, protests, police shooting and racial tensions which shape our experience of city streets and television viewing in these days. Doubtless whatever they do will be shaped in large part by their own experience as the man or the woman that in fact they are. Their views and actions will also be shaped by their experience as Americans. One factor in this Black Lives Matter centered current crisis is that the lens is very much exclusive of sexual assault against women. The lens is not inclusive of black grievances of sexual abuse under slavery, of white womanhood being subject to the attacks of black male sexual predation. The focus is on the protesting of acts of violence by police against black men who in most cases so far have a history of trouble with the law. In the case of a few like Philando Castille the man seemed to be a pillar of the community and not a violent criminal who was armed, did have many run-ins with police and was confused with a robbery suspect. Michael Brown and Alton Sterling seemed to have a number of violent criminal acts in their past. Black reactions to these deaths among the minority who lead Black Lives Matter has tended to be unreasonably indiscriminate at countless levels. the hate filled chants, throwing of blocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails have added criminal violence to their vision of a policing ethic which would destroy the country in my opinion.   But in all this chaos we have heard no reports of sexual assaults to speak of — why I am not sure. Perhaps there have been very few.  This contrasts with my vivid memory of the Lara Logan assault during the Arab Spring protests. So far now all of this is taking place with a low level of direct connection to sexual  violence at least. Nonethless the connections of racial and sexual politics in this country cannot be entirely severed. Philando Castille looked edgy but was one of the most securely the middle class persons celebrated by Black Lives Matter movement. Most of the victims it celebrates are not financially secure. The Dallas cop killer however was apparently prosperous and was involved in this movement.

Black lives matter

Sometimes it is easy to think of all the reasons why being a  Catholic  are compelling and all the reasons why I am glad to be one. Sometimes it is easy to think of a good number of reasons why I am glad to be an American. Sometimes  not so much is obvious when I try to count the blessings of being a Catholic American. Then there are days when all of the problems and obstacles in my life seem to clearly outweigh any positive and hopeful energies that I might be able to muster.  Yet even on those days it is not impossible to find some cause for rejoicing. I recently read the Papal encyclical which  has the English language title the Joy of Love.   A pdf version should be available here: papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en

Among Black Americans the marriage rate is low. It’s been shown to correlate to many problems in that section of the American population. The energy behind gay marriage masks the decline of marriage rates as a whole. Marriage plays many important roles in society.  The professional agitators in leadership in many American movements today benefit from the single state of more people who are more attracted to protests.   I’m aware of myself as being single in a way I never saw coming. Many people are single in such ways. The pope is urging the Catholic Church to find ways to make meaningful and personal weddings accessible to young couples in a context which encourages lower cost options. This is addressing the real role cost plays in keeping people from tying the knot. That’s especially true for church weddings. This is kind of a crisis, Pope Francis has addressed among others. I’m not going to quote all of his attempts to set forth a vision for Christian sexual and marital institutions,

Sexual politics is not a simple matter today in America and never has been a simple matter for anyone anywhere. politics has never been a simple matter and human politics never has been a simple matter.  But I think these are more challenging times than most. I think that the Pope has some things to say that many Americans need to hear or read. But I think white Americans are really facing a moment for coming to a sense of sexual clarity and I think that the Pope has something to say to them, to us. The encyclical reminds us all of what a basic sexual ideal for our society or any other might be.

What does the drama of American sexual politics as evinced in the Pulse Nightclub shootings, the debates over same sex marriage and other tensions of our society have to do with the recent encyclical from Pope Francis?  I myself think that the real emphasis we are losing on a livable sexual ideal is something that we need to consider as a great risk. To a remarkable degree sexuality in America in my lifetime has been typified by open conflict between the sexes. A resulting atmosphere of suspicion and distrust has colored relationships between persons most committed to building enduring relationships of trust and love. Approaching members of the opposite sex has seen new challenges emerge.

One group of Americans who have played and continue to play a role in our struggle to understand sexualtity or an informal and unofficial group of women who are the American sex symbols. They are usually not pornographic symbols and are not courtesans by and large. They vary tremendously in what they represent and how they love but they somehow make us aware of both challenges and ideals we face as a nation. at any given time their names and a faces and bodies speak to us of different struggles and hopes we have as sexual beings in this country. It is in their real lives and selves that we are sometimes able to picture what we wish our sexual identity to be and how it relates to womanhood, procreation and love among other things…

 

The future of this country is nonexistent without families and without a reasonably healthy sexuality. We will not resolve the tensions between blacks and the police or  the tensions that resonate in our political dysfunction without recognizing where we have gotten and where we have come from and without thinking seriously about where we are going as regards the realities of sex, race, money and how those matter to American families. Likewise we will not get anywhere good without seeing all the ways Americans are eager to protect their families however flawed they are and also the real limits of that protection in every case.    I include here a verse from an acrostic love poem that I sent after sending another and receiving no answer.  It’s about flirting on the internet after a fashion. About finding the limits of seeking love without a close personal association in real life.

Now comes the time for a pause in my poetic email,

One thing is sending verse to the love one has at hand.

Too different is this shooting into the dark gaps across the land.

Even the madness of the laws of our time 

That poem is not the issue but what our society believes about sex and how it portrays the appeal of sex is very relevant to what direction we are going in. My life is nobody’s sexual ideal. But my life is lived according to certain sexual ideals.

Ünderworlds of love and sexuality deserve to be remembered but the Pope reminds us of how love makes family and family shapes both society and the Christian faith. Sexuality is to be both ideal and ordinary for people of all races and cultures. That is the Christian vision he invites us to share.

 

 Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land. He visits the home of Peter, whose mother-in-law is ill (cf. Mk 1:30-31) and shows sympathy upon hearing of deaths in the homes of Jairus and Lazarus (cf. Mk 5:22-24, 35-43; Jn 11:1-44). He hears the desperate wailing of the widow of Nain for her dead son (cf. Lk 7:11-15) and heeds the plea of the father of an epileptic child in a small country town (cf. Mk 9:17-27). He goes to the homes of tax collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus (cf. Mt 9:9-13; Lk 19:1-10), and speaks to sinners like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50). Jesus knows the anxieties and tensions experienced by families and he weaves them into his parables: children who leave home to seek adventure (cf. Lk 15:11-32), or who prove troublesome (Mt 21:28-31) or fall prey to violence (Mk 12:1-9). He is also sensitive to the embarrassment caused by the lack of wine at a wedding feast (Jn 2:1-10), the failure of guests to come to a banquet (Mt 22:1-10), and the anxiety of a poor family over the loss of a coin (Lk 15:8-10).

I end this reflection with another quote from an unsuccessful love poem. I will say that love poems were part of my life when love was more a part of my life– so they have not all been unsuccessful. But perhaps the difference was in the life context. This poem reflects on the changes in situations..

My youth is long behind me, an almost forgotten circumstance today

Young men’s loving words and bold lines are not mine to safely say.

Aside from my own life, I think we have to look at the vision for love in this country, for sex and for sexuality. Where is it heading and where should it be heading?

 

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7 responses to “Sex, Race, Money and the American Experience

  1. I’m a bit lost: I have no idea who is in your choice of (non-family) photos other than Jackie Kennedy. Are the women in bikinis important to your points?

  2. All other pictures of famous women are of four women. Britney Spears, Julianne Hough, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. Spears is iconic, Carlson and Kelly are different attractive Fox News personnel with different reasons for being at the center of sexual political discussion. Julianne Hough is a multi talented and very attractive star who started life in conservative Mormon Utah. Google will have true and false data on all…

  3. Thank you, Frank, and while I look them up, can you justify your use of bikini shots for some of them?

    • The one piece is of Gretchen Carlson when she won Miss America. Julianne Hough recently produced Miss USA with contestants in bikinis and as part of her journey has declared herself a bikini girl, years ago. I am very fond of Britney but her reputation and image are less affected than you can imagine by a bikini shot. Actually I had so many problems with this post I may not have her in this shot. There are no pictures of Kelly dressed as this mode allows because that is not how she presents. To show the images without bikini shots would be absurd. But I could have left them all out. The bikini is a powerful sexual symbol in America but a different one than in colder Britain even with the EU and a tropical empire.

      They also look rather nice and none are currently elected officials or religious leaders etc….

  4. Oh my. To profer that the bikini is a “powerful sexual symbol” requires context, surely? There is no doubt that certain forms of clothing titillates the senses of one or both sexes, but I remain unconvinced that the images serve any purpose here.

    PS It’s 2am in Blighty and I should now turn in for the night; back later!

  5. Well that’s where they remain. We could go all the way to Mormon underwear in this discussion but I think that it has already gone too far…

  6. Tizres,
    Remember not to apply this feeling of exposure personally. Your electronic burka is quite complete. For all I know empirically you are humanity’s only five eyed, green skinned person with wings. The odds of course are quite against it and there is a host of theoretical and general biological reasons against it. Nonetheless, the Taliban would be quite pleased with how little you have revealed of your personal appearance as far as I am concerned.

    I would also point out that although the bit out your PM leads the story it is not primarily about her. I quite assume that she will never wear a bikini during PMQ and while the election of HRC is nothing that thrills my soul her avoidance of bikinis in public as H.O.S., H.O.G. and even as a prominent person of her sort is quite alright with me. When Schwarzenegger was Governor of California he never put on a Speedo and oiled himself up but we all know that he had and many of us remembered him only a bit more dressed in “Conan the Barbarian”.

    I believe in the right to champion and praise modesty. I am not such a champion or advocate on a regular basis today. The Pope’s encyclical The Joy of Love” cited here makes mention of the fact that people cannot relate well to the virtue of modesty and I said it was worth reading. I actually do believe however that my sex symbols push the envelope of what makes any sense in the extreme direction of depicting very real women who look like they wear quite a bit of clothing most of the time. Julianne Hough and Britney Spears are involved in the thick of the struggle to define the physicality of sexual appeal in this country. In a very real sense they compete against or compete with the pornographic, dehumanizing and endless stream of female images which pours forth daily into eyes and minds especially of heterosexual men as they think about what women are as sexual beings. Hough and Spears present a set of different images of what is possible as regards female beauty in the sense which is quite important — the physical sexual sense….

    Really not having a living woman in the nude is sort of too much deference to the kind of escapist cowardice that defines this discussion in my view. But I do not think Theresa May should appear in the nude or that my post suggests that you or she ought to do so for my pleasure or any other reason. I myself admit to having been completely nude more than once. In fact quite recently and on several occasion I have been entirely disrobed…

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