In recent months, the media has been filled with revelations about the extent of white slavery in Israel. Women are literally sold as chattel from one pimp to another. Approximately 25,000 sexual transactions for money take place every day in Israel.
Coupled with the conviction of Yitzchak Mordechai for aggravated sexual assault and his subsequent judicial pardon, those revelations have provoked a great deal of discussion about the value of a woman’s body in Israel society. That discussion, however, has failed to probe the relationship between the objectification of women and our general sexual mores.
Throughout the Western world, a revolution in sexual behavior has been in full swing for more than thirty years. That sexual revolution broke the traditional linkage between sexual relations and marriage. Readily available birth control, in the form of the Pill, divorced sexual union from its natural consequences. No longer did sexual partners have to concern themselves with the possibility of pregnancy or think of their partners in terms of their fitness for the lifelong project of raising children.
Though Israeli society may have lagged behind at the start of the revolution, today the sexual practices of Israelis are, with the exception of religious, virtually indistinguishable from citizens of other Western countries. (A few years ago, a book reviewer in Ha’aretz wrote that it was impossible to take seriously a novel about two young national religious teenagers who viewed premarital chastity as a virtue.)
No revolution is complete without a self-justifying ideology, and the sexual revolution is no exception. The ideology of sexual liberation posits that man is basically a pleasure-seeking animal, albeit a highly sophisticated one. Chief among those pleasures joining man and his fellow animals is sexual satisfaction.
(Only the late twentieth century could have given rise to "ethicist’’ Peter Singer, holder of an endowed chair at Princeton University, who summarizes his philosophy: "We are animals.’’ On that basis he advocates both infanticide of deformed babies and bestiality.)
Some were quicker to catch the logic of the new ideology than others. About fifteen years ago, two coeds at Brown University, then the most selective college in America, were caught running their own private prostitution ring. Brown promptly expelled them.
Yet the two coeds were only pursuing the logic of behavior engaged in by all their peers to its logical conclusion. Celibates by conviction were probably as rare at Brown as prostitutes. Their classmates too engaged in a series of sexual relationships, often of short duration and commenced without any commitment towards the future. .
If the body is merely an instrument to achieve pleasure, the young entrepreneurs reasoned, what is wrong with using one’s body to obtain money with which one can buy things that provide pleasure.
Two years ago, Israeli adults were horrified by the story of how a group of teens in Ramat Hasharon had repeatedly sexually abused a female classmate over a period of months. (The boy’s classmates, both male and female, were initially far less condemnatory, almost unanimously agreeing that the girl had "wanted it.’’)
What inspired particular revulsion in that case was how oblivious the teenage boys were to the girl’s feelings and how brutally clear they made to her that they had no interest in her as a human being.
Still the confusion of the young men and their classmates about what they had done to deserve years in jail is not altogether imcomprehensible. They had not physically coerced the girl, and she had even boasted of what she was doing to classmates in a pathetic attempt to win some status.
Sugar Ray Robinson was once asked after a fight in which he killed his opponent, "Didn’t you see he was hurt.’’ "They pays me to hurt people,’’ Sugar Ray replied. In a similar fashion, the Ramat Hasharon teenagers saw themselves as pursuing the logic of the societal messages they were absorbing every day.
They had certainly noticed that selfishness is not a rare quality in the sexual game as played by their adult role models and that emotional victims are not unknown. Lies, deceptions, and playing on the vulnerabilities of others are par for the course.
"We are both consenting adults’’ has become an all purpose line by which the adults justify the most naked pursuit of their own pleasure and absolve themselves from all responsibility for the damage they inflict on others.
Mutual consent, however, does not free our behavior from the taint of turning other human beings into objects. Skimpily clad models are no doubt well compensated and consenting, but their use to sell every product under the sun still conveys the message that a woman’s body is a tool for pleasure.
The absence of consent makes the actions of Yitzchak Mordechai and those who buy and sell women on auction blocks both morally and legally far more reprehensible than the everyday casual sexual encounter. But their actions reflect commonplace ways of viewing others.
Ironically, the sexual revolution is that the elevation of sexual pleasure to a goal in itself, not as a crucial component of a loving marriage, has not even increased sexual pleasure. Young men may feel less pressure than ever to marry because of the easy availability of sexual partners, but all studies indicate that married couples enjoy sexual relations more frequently than their unmarried peers. And judging by the most frequently played commercials on Israeli radio, anxieties caused by pursuit of sexual nirvana have made male sexual dysfunction ubiquitous.
Though young people continue to describe a lasting marriage to a soul-mate as their ultimate goal, the "mating culture’’ that proceeds marriage today makes that goal more and more difficult to attain. Throughout the Western world, fewer adults are marrying, and those that do are less likely to describe their marriage as very happy.
David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, directors of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, report in "Sex without Strings, Relationships without Rings’’ that multiple relationships prior to marriage, rather than constituting preparation for marriage leave emotional scars that make successful marriages less likely.
The lesson extracted by the women in the focus groups surveyed by Dafoe and Papencoe from their multiple failed relationships is: "Trust no one.’’ Women find themselves contemptuous of the men their own age, who frequently seem content to push marriage off into the indefinite future. "Global mistrust and antagonism to men,’’ Dafoe and Papcoe found, grows among women with the passage of time.
If our recent sexual scandals spur some to rethink of the relationship between sexual relations and love and commitment, they will at least have achieved something.
Related Topics: Israeli Society, Jewish Ethics
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