Hint: there isn’t one.
Like kgibbel and others, I found Kate Taylor’s recent New York Times ‘whoa, women enjoy casual sex’ piece to be troubling. I am not going to recount other criticisms already leveled on this blog. Instead, I would like to focus on a false narrative that Taylor incorporates, undoubtedly without realizing it, into her entire article, and which transforms the piece from perhaps-well-meaning-but-nevertheless sensationalist drivel into something much more sinister and offensive. This is not a particularly new false narrative, or newly false narrative, or even really a growing false narrative, but it is, regardless, irreparably false.
That narrative is all claims laid to The Object.
Society (and history) teem with would-be-prophets who lay a claim to know what is The Object of one endeavor or another. We don’t need to go there. In this particular case, Taylor tries to capture and observe the claims laid by a range of individuals, variously claiming The Object of the Weekend, The Object of Free Time, The Object of A Party, The Object of College, and The Object of Life, among other Objects. For each Object, Taylor presents one or more individuals to stake a claim, and then, if the original author has not already done so, applies that claim broadly to an entire generation.
For example:* Taylor quotes from a concerned mother’s letter to young Princetonians, in which the mother, Susan Patton, writes “For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry.” Statements such as this one are incredibly, hilariously offensive. I am a fan of exegesis, so let’s break it down:
- “For most of you.” Most is an extremely dangerous claim. When you only have one point of data (your own experience), laying claim to the internal desires and emotions of others, let alone the majority, is fundamentally untenable.**
- “your future and happiness.” Both the future and happiness are extremely nebulous concepts and non-producible via a formulaic laying of life-bricks. Furthermore, for any two individuals, neither concept will be identical.
- “inextricably.” I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Perhaps you mean fundamentally? Significantly? Causally? Anyway, linkages are equally fuzzy concepts as the ones you are attempting to link.
- “the man you marry.” You seem to assume that all women will marry, and equally incredibly that all women will marry men. Beyond that, you assume that a woman’s spouse will be the focal point of her life, bearing the responsibility both for her future and her happiness. This is (hopefully obviously) false.
My central point is this: Susan Patton is attempting to claim both the Object of Life (to attain happiness) and the Object of College (to obtain a husband, in service of future happiness) in her letter. She, like everyone else, has the right to neither.
Nevertheless, Taylor accepts and displays these claims, setting them out against other claims to the same Objects. The central narrative of the piece is to put forth a menagerie of rival worldviews, set against the backdrop of a generation, and to paint them as generalized truth. kgibbel points out that she cannot connect with any of the narratives presented. Neither can I. Nor can many others. Some, perhaps, do. But the crime lies in the invitation. Taylor’s article invites us, encourages, demands of us that we clamber into one of the boxes put onto display, that we accept as our own one of claims to The Object.
This is, in my opinion, a typical mannerism of the human condition. I experience the world thusly, therefore I will assume that others do also. Wrong. Such assumptions cannot be made, at least not safely. The human experience, and the world, is simply too diverse, too varied, too cosmo-neurotically vast. Emotion, desire, and vision are too intangible, too private, too unintelligible for anyone to stake a central and unifying claim to The Object of anything.
My Object is mine and mine alone, yours is yours and yours alone. Please do not try to claim mine, and I will not try to claim yours.
*For more examples from Taylor’s piece, see below.
** Granted, this position of my own is itself quite untenable. Our society is built upon the imperfect communications of, and pseudo-established connections of, our inner thoughts and emotions. To attempt to describe the world, as I do now, is to claim knowledge of that which you cannot truly see.
- To Get Laid: At various points this was claimed as The Object of the Weekend, The Object of A Party, or The Object of Free Time. Taylor notes the impression that “men” supposedly have of women in skimpy outfits: “men” think that women in skimpy outfits are looking to get laid. Conversely, others make assumptions about men, claiming that they go to parties to get laid. Both of these things are, on occasion, true. However (big however) neither assumption should ever be made, because such assumptions perpetuate a culture in which sexual assault is possible. In my (correct) opinion, The Object of nothing ever should be “to get laid” but rather, at most, “consensual sex.”
- To Get a Job: This one is goddamn everywhere. The purpose of my life, at least, is not to find a job. My imagined purpose is bigger than that, and I resent being shoved by everyone around me into a relentless, myopic, single-minded scramble for job, job, job, job, job. Obtaining a job is certainly necessary for sustained living, but it is by no means the only method of producing in society (wrongfully assuming that that is even The Object) nor is that search the central purpose of everything I do. As such, I objected to the unwitting assumption flaunted about by Taylor that the modern-day Object of College is to further one’s career.
- To Make Money: As with the job narrative, a powerful (overwhelming) narrative of our society which wends its way into Taylor’s narrative is the concept of successful equals wealth, or rather that wealth equals success (again, wrongfully assuming that “success” is The Object). As with the others, it is simply not universally true.
Strange post! On a rhetorical level, I think that your hypothesizing of the ultimate untenability of the communication of thoughts and emotions distracts from your otherwise prescient critiques. On a deeper level, I think this hypothesis de-legitimize those critiques, which I personally find unfortunate. You yourself go so far as to highlight this with your double asterisk: Indeed, if your position is, as you say, “quite untenable,” then why should I take your words and arguments more seriously than Taylor’s or Patton’s?
You shouldn’t. I cannot see into the minds of others in the same way that Taylor and Patton cannot. I simply comment to say that their perspectives (as I read them) do not describe with mine, though they claim to do so. You, Gram, have such privilege as to find commonality with my arguments, or not, just as you do with Taylor’s and Patton’s.
For the record, I think that you are right that my supposition of ultimate untenability distracts and detracts from my other points — but I unfortunately felt that it was too “inextricably linked” to be left out, at least if I was really being honest. So I left it in.
Constructive criticism FTW!
the fact that there are now TWO wesleying pieces about this is a little silly. write about something else please; i’m bored.
I actually ghost-wrote both of them from the van I live in behind Beta.