I realize that I've been writing a lot about life in the age of the gender wars, but these are wartime nights. We live in an age when male-female interactions are being re-defined as a kind of cold war, when flirtation and seduction are being re-defined as tools of oppression and as some kind of low-level coercion. We no longer expect sex to be about pleasure or play, and even those feminist writers who still call themselves "sex-positive" spend the great bulk of their time writing about reasons not to have sex and about reasons to distrust and despise males. I read accounts of how even "sex-positive" writers portray flirtation and seduction and I picture something very like the negotiations that sporadically take place in that temporary building that's been in the border zone between the two Koreas for sixty years--- hostile, futile, agonizing, exhausting.
We no longer accept pleasure as a reason for things. We no longer believe that something is worth doing simply because it offers up delight. We make it harder and harder to trust one another in any kind of romantic or sexual sense, harder to simply play.
We seem to be moving toward a world of armoured monads, a world where all interactions are mediated through ideological hostility and a large measure of fear.
I style myself as a roué, with all that that word carries along as baggage. I am a gentleman of a certain age, and I believe in flirtations and seductions. I believe in a certain kind of ritualized and stylized sex. I believe that flirtation is valuable for its own sake, and that it's a key form of social interaction. I certainly prefer it to the alternative, to the image of sullen negotiators across a table, each too wary and disdainful to care about reaching agreement or, worse, to the image of all male-female contact rendered into a kind of didactic ideological drama, the kind of thing traveling propaganda troupes did during Mao's years.
A male friend was recently subjected to public abuse at a sushi bar near here. He and I are of the same age, and we're both genteelly-impoverished and overeducated. He was having a drink at the sushi bar when a very drunken woman in her forties suddenly began loudly upbraiding him down the bar. His sin was simple enough: he'd smiled and nodded at a group of undergraduate girls walking past. Did he know them? He may well have, but that of course isn't pertinent to the tale, nor was it something the drunken woman could've known. She yelled at him for looking at the girls, and for finding them attractive "at his age". She concluded by telling him that if he wanted girls that age, he must be...well, gay. I needn't go into her exact phrasing; I'm sure you can guess. My friend was brought up to strict standards of behaviour, and he refused to engage or argue. The drunken woman left, still pointing at him and calling him names. The bartender passed my friend down a free drink and told him that he was sorry he'd had to endure that. My friend thanked him for the drink and pointed out that the bartender was a lucky man. If my friend hadn't been the target of her abuse, the next visible male person would've been the bartender. True enough, the bartender said, and made him another free drink.
I do sympathise with my friend. I've been through the same thing, been subject to public abuse for the same sins. I've always said that I prefer my Scotch older and my companions younger, and I've been very lucky at finding companions and lovers who either don't care about my age or are intrigued by it. I hope that I've been good to them, and it means rather a lot to me to think that over the years many of them have remained close friends. I suppose, though, that my companions and I are all regarded as targets of abuse these days.
A girl with an older lover is regarded these days as certainly psychologically flawed and quite probably an ideological traitor. And as for me, well...we know the words that are used. To be a roué, to be an older lover, becomes not just suspect but something clearly evil.
The world that the gender warriors want is one of atomized individuals, armoured and without any necessary social connections. For all that a number of more prominent gender warriors claim that they are somehow "sex-positive", they really have no use for seduction or flirtation. And they do imagine that the world must be carved up into a host of watertight compartments, where any kind of communication between them is discouraged on grounds of "privilege" or age or any number of other things.
It's an odd thing, being designated as evil. It's an odd thing to watch the propaganda troupe do their performance and know that you're the villain in the play.