That ageing provocateur Bob Ellis, pictured here showing what Coke can really do to you, wrote a truly awful piece on the Drum yesterday to which on principle I will not link, basically arguing that feminism is responsible for the downfall by sex of many famous men from Oscar Wilde (???) to Dominique Strauss Kahn.
Heck, I have to link, it isn’t fair to talk about it otherwise.
The piece was almost universally howled down, and the ABC shut off the comments option at around three hundred and something, only the day after it was published.
What Ellis’s pleas for a more understanding and forgiving attitude to male desire did make me ponder, is how easily male public figures are brought down by their sexual activities, whether they’re caught playing away, sniffing chairs, exiting gay bars or cavorting in their underpants when one would wish them to be fully dressed. Though for Ellis to claim this has much to do with feminism is contestable, as there weren’t a lot of feminists braying for Oscar Wilde’s scalp, for example.
Usually these public figures are brought down by their male enemies who might very well employ some appropriate feminist rhetoric to make them look good and properly concerned about the women allegedly injured in the blokes’ peccadilloes (except in the case of Oscar Wilde and any other man brought undone by participation in gay sex or rumours of gay sex.)
What this says is that as a society we are apparently very uptight about the morals of influential men, or more likely there are forces at work who want us to think we are.
If a man is unfaithful to his wife, how does this affect his professional performance? The answer is we don’t know. Nobody’s done the studies. We make an assumption, based on current moral values about sex, fidelity and monogamy that if he’s deceiving his wife, he’s likely deceiving everybody else. This seems to me to be a slightly insane deduction. We all know how human beings can and do categorize, especially when sexual desire is at work in them.
Was Bill Clinton’s presidential performance changed for the worse as a consequence of letting Monica puff on his cigar, for example? (No, she didn’t inhale. They found the smoke on her frock.) Do we have the right to judge a man’s whole life (or a woman’s for that matter, but sexual disgrace doesn’t seem to befall influential women to anything like the same extent) on the strength of his sexual behaviour?
Of course I’m only talking about non criminal situations. If an influential man is found to have acted criminally in sexual matters, then that needs to be viewed as would any other criminal behaviour.
Ellis claims that a lot of good men are cut off at the balls because feminist wowsers can’t deal with their expression of their sexuality. Men have always been at the mercy of their desires, he claims, and everybody needs to cut them some slack if they Fall. High levels of testosterone go hand in hand with high levels of achievement, so there’s bound to be trouble.
There isn’t much to take away form Bob’s rave, except that it does remind me that the society in which we live seems to have a dominant moral view of sex as at best naughty, and at worst, really scary and requiring all kinds of societal controls, including marriage and monogamy. Repression is the price we pay for civilization. Give adolescents condoms and they’ll be at it in the aisles at school.
Any public figure who transgresses the dominant sexual morality runs the risk of being terminally banished, not because they’re particularly evil, or even a little bit bad, but because they’ve given their opponents a brilliant excuse to run them out of the game, under the guise of upholding society’s moral values.
While straying from one’s chosen partner is going to cause a lot of grief, does that make it immoral? If a man in a powerful position engages in a consensual sexual encounter with a woman with less power, is that an immoral act? Who is determining our moral values at this point in our history, how are they determining them, and to what purpose?
Or is there truth in Nietzsche’s claim that:
“There are systems of morals which are meant to justify their author in the eyes of other people; other systems of morals are meant to tranquilize him, and make him self-satisfied; with other systems he wants to crucify and humble himself, with others he wishes to take revenge, with others to conceal himself, with others to glorify himself and gain superiority and distinction,–this system of morals helps its author to forget, that system makes him, or something of him, forgotten, many a moralist would like to exercise power and creative arbitrariness over mankind, many another, perhaps, Kant especially, gives us to understand by his morals that “what is estimable in me, is that I know how to obey–and with you it SHALL not be otherwise than with me!” In short, systems of morals are only a sign language of the emotions.”
Whatever the answer, it’s a pretty safe bet that it’s got very little to do with feminism, or even wowser feminism. Sorry, Bob. You blokes are on your own with this one.
- Bob Ellis: beyond comprehension (hydeparkheckler.wordpress.com)
- The Strauss-Kahn moment: Has Bob Ellis gone too far? (thepunch.com.au)