Sunday, April 19, 2009
Why Natalie Dylan is A Genius
...for auctioning off her virginity to the highest bidder through a Nevada brothel in order to pay for grad school, in case you haven't heard.
How many "virgins" are totally sexually inexperienced? The vast majority of people have kissed and touched and gone through several of those junior high "bases" before engaging in heterosexual intercourse. Many have also experienced *some* form of genital contact. (Dylan obliquely acknowledged this when she said, " I think people misconstrue virginity with being prudes... ") Why do we make the insertion of the penis into the vagina such a sexual milestone? Sure, it's different in that it is a potentially reproductive act, but fewer and fewer people lose their virginity in order to have children. In the age of effective birth control, it is no more of a reproductive act than any other sexual activity. Many people who only have same gender bodied lovers have *never* had heterosexual intercourse, but it would be an insult to their rich and extensive sex lives to call them virgins. The idea that having a penis in one's vagina marks one's transition away from sexual innocence is a recapitulation of heterosexist, patriarchal norms that are really no longer relevant. Natalie Dylan, a young woman from a generation with changing viewpoints around sex, with a sister who's worked a sex worker who has also probably given her more expansive ideas on the subject, and a degree in Women's Studies where she's examined just these sorts of questions, probably doesn't view heterosexual intercourse as some huge turning point in her sexual life. But cleverly, she's exploiting the obsolete ideas of men who do see her lack of experience with this form of sex as holding some huge cache. So both parties get what they want--the man who makes the winning bid gets to believe he's buying a once in a lifetime experience, while Dylan loses nothing b/c she understands that " losing her virginity " is merely a technicality bolstered by a huge amount of hype, and after a sexual tete-a-tete that will take no more than an hour, she gets to walk away with the cash to pay for her degree, plus a few million to spare.
Of course, the hold that the idea of " virginity " still has on this culture is incredible, judging by the fact that more than 10,000 men have bid on the auction. Dylan is also benefiting in yet another way, by analyzing the phenomenon as a Women's Studies scholar:
" We wanted to study the dichotomous nature between virginity and prostitution. There’s really been so few case studies of it… "
And thank you, Ms. Dylan, for tying in sex work with the feminist credo of my-body-my-choice, an obvious connection that's often lost on too many second wave feminists, in a mainstream venue:
" I think this is about being pro-choice with your body, " she said on the Tyra Banks show.
Of course, coverage of the auction has been as hysterical and insulting as one might expect. For some trenchant commentary on that, check out Sex In The Public Square.
I'd also like to put in what a commenter in my facebook said when I posted this link---" It pisses me off to see this stuff in the media as part of a moralistic debate on how one should/should not make a living instead of a conversation about the cost of education and the realities of low wage jobs... " It's the usual sleight-of-hand with the issues of sex work and economic need, similar to the way people focus on low-income women streetwalking rather than why they need to do so,in depressed urban areas in a country where so many low skilled jobs have been shipped abroad to sweatshops where corporations can pay pennies on the hour for the labor. With welfare cut so that poor people often have to make a choice referred to bitterly as "heat or eat" during the winter, it's no wonder that the inflated wages of the black market appeal to many people struggling to get by. Whatever your opinion of the morality of prostitution, surely people should understand that the greater crime is not the nonviolent offense of prostitution but the systemic violence that leads low income women to make desperate choices trying to feed themselves and their children. At Arise For Social Justice, a low income rights organization I worked with that advocates de facto decriminalization of prostitution in Springfield as one of its goals, we often made this argument, and I still have the pin proclaiming, " OUTLAW POVERTY, NOT PROSTITUTION. "