Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What Should We Say

Click here for Jia Tolentino's "What Should We Say About David Bowie and Lori Maddox?" about the 15-year-old "child groupie" Maddox whom Bowie de-virginized 43 years ago. Maddox declines to call it rape and Tolentino brilliantly traces the historical disconnect that has some minds sprinting towards nomenclature.

"There’s a sense right now of a watershed: because of new language, newly open channels, and new consensus on what constitutes abuse, once-beloved men are being exposed on what feels like a weekly basis for having taken sexual advantage of less powerful women." But Tolentino is opposed to the idea "that it’s a critical dodge to even bring up the fact that we’re talking about the 1970s" and then quotes a Facebook post of Rebecca Solnit's on how the mores of that decade really were different:

"The dregs of the sexual revolution were what remained, and it was really sort of a counterrevolution (guys arguing that since sex was beautiful and everyone should have lots everything goes and they could go at anyone; young women and girls with no way to say no and no one to help them stay out of harmful dudes’ way). The culture was sort of snickeringly approving of the pursuit of underage girls (and the illegal argument doesn’t carry that much weight; smoking pot is also illegal; it’s about the immorality of power imbalance and rape culture). It was completely normalized. Like child marriage in some times and places. Which doesn’t make it okay, but means that, unlike a man engaged in the pursuit of a minor today, there was virtually no discourse about why this might be wrong. It’s also the context for what’s widely regarded as the anti-sex feminism of the 1980s: those women were finally formulating a post-sexual-revolution ideology of sex as another arena of power and power as liable to be abused; we owe them so much."

She quotes Solnit further (this time from her collection The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness) about this sea change in mores, a shift one can feel in contemporaneous pop music, e.g., The Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes":

"For San Francisco in particular and for California generally, 1978 was a notably terrible year, the year in which the fiddler had to be paid for all the tunes to which the counterculture had danced. The sexual revolution had deteriorated into a sort of free-market free-trade ideology in which all should have access to sex and none should deny access."

And Tolentino's pungent conclusion:

"The persistence of that reality—that we learn to have sex not in a utopia but within and around whatever norms we are presented with—is why it matters that things were different in the ’70s. It is possible to say that there don’t ever need to be any other Lori Maddoxes without saying that there never were. It is possible for me to read all the rape stories in my inbox and still know with certainty that something enormous is different—and, that acknowledging that is the only way to credit the second-wave women who forced that change with rhetorical fervor that girls now would find insane. It’s because of them that we have both the words to identify power and, now, the freedom to do so more ambivalently. It’s their stringency that spared me from having to know how I would have played it if I’d grown up at a time when there was no vocabulary to separate a party girl from a body for the taking, when grown men said fair game at the age of 13.

It is Maddox who interests me, in the end, not Bowie. But if there’s an argument for labeling Bowie a rapist that gets me, it’s how much I owe to the inflexible spirit that calls for it. Look, what a miracle; we are talking about this, when out of all the interviews Bowie gave in his life, he seems to never have been asked on the record about Maddox or any of the other “baby groupies,” or to have said a thing about Wanda Nichols after the case was dismissed."

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