Friday, September 20, 2013

flappers, Nazis, walking scenes, and free love for everyone!

I am sorry for the delay! I have been reading a long irritating book (much more below) and also re-reading the entire No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, because it was a beautiful early fall weekend and I had lots of snacks, so what else are you going to do? 

The new books I did read: 

The Diviners, by Libba Bray. I do love Bray. This book was set in 1920's New York and features a bunch of young people, all of whom have special powers, getting gradually drawn together by the hunt for a serial killer. By the end they are nearly all assembled for what will clearly be Adventuresome Sequels, for which I am excited. The 20's slang got a little out of control, and Bray really pushed the "almost-awful but always-interesting heroine" shtick too far - at the beginning I disliked the heroine a lot - but I tore through this and had a great time. 

The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel. I've been fascinated by the looting of art by the Nazis since reading Stealing the Mystic Lamb, and so periodically check out books on that topic. Some have been very dull and dry, but this one was quite interesting and exciting. Edsel paces the story well, and juggles the different stories going on with his multiple heroes, who are scattered across Europe, without any confusion on the reader's part.

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sigh. Ryan and Jetha have clearly very recently discovered the concept of open relationships and are in that twenty-years-old-just-discovered-poly-place where you scream to anyone who will listen that your way is the natural way!! and everyone else is SO repressed and sad and wrong!! (And the twenty-years-old-monogamous-tending among your friends get REALLY judgy and prudish and mean, not that I would know anything about being like that.) 

I'm just going to pick a few examples of what made me mad about this book, because its whole premise made me mad (said premise = open relationships are the way to happiness for every human on the planet), but I think it also featured some pretty sloppy anthropology and stupid conclusions:

The authors trot out, over and over, multiple examples of very small (150 or so individuals) tribal societies which practice no sexual monogamy whatsoever and in which, according to the authors, there is no way for a woman to know the biological paternity of her child. And sure, they argue convincingly that in these cultures the idea of biological paternity is irrelevant, but at no point do they ever address the first thing that came to my mind when I read this: how do these societies avoid incest in the succeeding generations? And if they don't, what health issues have resulted? These (in my opinion) glaringly obvious questions are completely ignored, no matter how often they bring up these tribes, because the authors' theory is that these societies are superior in every way to societies in which biological paternity does matter, and they are not going to let some pesky inbreeding statistics get in the way.

The authors posit that humans stray from monogamous relationships because the amount of sex in a relationship diminishes over time, because it's humanly impossible to remain excited about having sex with someone you love once you've done it too many times, and because monkeys aren't monogamous. To which I have many, many responses, some of which are, "Not always," "There are, like, five hundred emotional reasons why people cheat on each other," "No," and "So?" 

The authors seem to believe that in open relationships it's just not possible to cheat, hurt a partner, or damage trust, and so that is the answer to eliminating infidelity and jealousy in our world. I know several people who are in open / polyamorous relationships and who would laugh and laugh at that statement. Trust, interestingly, is never really mentioned at all as part of a sexual relationship, because the authors' goal is for humans to completely separate sex from love. That, to me, kind of defeats the purpose of non-procreative sex entirely. 

Well, okay, the authors don't always have the goal of separating sex from love. That's one place where it gets really sloppy: they go inconsistently back and forth between saying that sex is a community-bonding tool (as in the non-monogamous tribal societies) and saying that it is a purely biological need for release which you shouldn't be threatened about your husband getting from his secretary. So I'm not sure they even knew how they were defining sex half the time. It's best if all adults in a community bond lovingly through sex and assume all the kids belong to them! But sex is just sex and equating it with love is a stupid cultural construct that goes against all our throbbing biological urges! 

It's as if one of the authors believed that an "open relationship" is a heterosexual one in which the male partner goes off and has anonymous sex in restaurant bathrooms a couple nights a week while financially supporting his wife, and the other was actually defining it the way everyone I know who is in an open relationship defines it: as relationships. You may have a romantic / sexual relationship with more than one person at one time, but it isn't just about sex. You're dating these people. I think one of the authors understood that, but I don't know which one. Unfortunately, whichever one didn't understand that wrote the final chapter (see below), and that chapter wiped away all the times that this book almost made a good point about polyamory's value in family-building, to replace it with a paean to male politicians whose wives put up with their philandering. 

Oh, and this book also claims that all humans, everywhere, always, prefer socialization to solitude, and that (presented as an irrefutable fact) "Sartre was wrong". So I guess introversion is also an "unnatural" state into which we have been culturally shamed...? Because our society pressures and guilts extroverts into behaving more antisocially, and tells them they're "not normal" if they just want to go out with their friends on a Saturday night instead of staying home with a book. Everyone knows that.

The final chapter was so ludicrous that it made me wonder if this whole book had been an elaborate satire. On the first page the authors lament, as they put it, this "one-size-fits-all" relationship advice that humans get fed, and then they spend the next eight pages reiterating that, no matter who you are, monogamy WILL make you miserable and sexually repressed, and your spouse / partner WILL go out and have sex with other people, and if you aren't a slave to stupid Victorian narratives you WILL be happy that he's getting the sex he needs, because after ten years or so spouses always think of each other as siblings anyway and he still totally respects you. And if you think, Um, no, I actually disagree with all of that, then you have been brainwashed into repressing the imperatives of human nature. I picked the male pronoun above deliberately, by the way. This whole chapter, which only mentions male straying, felt specifically and hostilely directed at, like, nagging frigid wives of unfaithful men, rather than at both men and women and their equally-valid sex drives. There was a definite flavor of Men Have Needs, Little Lady to it, and they even trot out a psychologist who claims that women who leave their cheating husbands don't actually want to leave; they're just doing what they've seen happen in movies. Seriously.

In conclusion, what I gathered the answer to "why we stray" is, according to Ryan and Jetha, because Don Draper the penis can't be tamed. Oh, and because our society has forced us through cultural pressure and sexual shame into [heterosexual] monogamy, which is not natural for anyone and which has never made anyone happy. Well. It is the trend at the moment to bray from the rooftops that monogamy is unnatural, and I don't begrudge that trend, since the "anything but heterosexual monogamy is unnatural" trend got broadcast for centuries first and is still, sadly, pervasive. But I think the idea of claiming that anything - anything - is universally natural or unnatural for every single human on the planet is incredibly fucking stupid. You might as well write a book the central premise of which is that every person in the world loves cauliflower: research cauliflower all you like, it's still not going to be true. À chacun son goût, dumbasses. 

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner. It was okay. Seventy percent of it was travel, which was probably intended as a Lord-of-the-Rings type thing, but which just made me say at the end of each chapter, "Well, that was another solid Corman walking scene." (MST3K joke.) I didn't fail to enjoy this, but I don't think I'll be reading the sequels. 

No comments:

Post a Comment