Like The Other Charlotte, I was outraged to read the New York Times’s screed yesterday against the romantic feelings that make Valentine’s Day so…romantic.
As TOC pointed out, the article consisted of a hit job on Heloise, the 12th-century love of the philosopher Abelard for not being a good “feminist” (Heloise submitted–and we feminists can’t do that!–to her beloved’s desire that she become a nun, a vocation for which she proved to have great aptitude, becoming mother superior of her own convent and designing a rule of life for the sisters that took into account their female spirituality). (See TOC’s Heloise on a Hot Tin Roof: Feminist Hit Job on Twelfth-Century Valentines, today below.)
Besides giving hell to Heloise, the author of the Times article, Christina Nehring, pointed out that it’s behind the times anyway to fall in love with someone (gents, toss those Valentine bouquets into the trash now!):
“We live in a time of broad antiromanticism when teenagers, according to The Times Magazine, have given up on relationships altogether and adults write to the editor to salute their wisdom. ‘Romance?’ scoffed one correspondent. It’s just ‘an excuse…to work off sexual energy.’”
Yes, that’s the view of…adults. Adult ideologues like Christina Nehring. As for young people themselves, it turns out that they take a different view of the date-free “hooking up” culture of casual sex that now pervades college and even high school campuses. Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, who’s been teaching at Duke University, writes today about an assignment on the death of courtship that he gave to his students last fall:
“Listen (with her permission) to a young woman…:
“‘Friday night, my sorority had a function in an abandoned field, where the only activity is to get really drunk,’ she wrote in a paper I assigned on the decline of courtship. ‘I asked this older boy that I sort of knew, just because I needed a date and he was cute. Everyone was drinking so heavily that the majority of the conversations did not even make much sense.
“‘When the party ended, we all got on the buses (nicknamed the “hook-up buses”) to return to campus. I went back to his room “to talk,” but obviously talking turned into making out. Later, I walked back from his dorm all the way to my dorm by myself….
“‘At the end of the night, I could have batted my eyes, given him a hug, and said “Thanks for a wonderful evening.” But in today’s society, that is rude. A hug is the universal sign for “not interested.”‘ “
“[The students] are not sure who made the new rules, though they seem to believe they have something to do with gender equality. And they are not sure they like the new rules, but they like even less the prospect of being branded weird and left alone in their rooms on weekend nights.
“What I have found surprising is their willingness to talk about the trend. Several young men — after first giving an enthusiastic thumbs up — admitted that the new culture leaves them off balance, too. Several young women said — sadly, I thought — that they don’t really expect to find their future husbands in such encounters. They see it, they told me, as a college thing, a phase. Grad school is soon enough to start taking relationships seriously.
“Still, more than a few young women see their ‘liberation’ as tinged with awkwardness and shame.”
These reactions of Raspberry’s students dovetail perfectly with students’ reactions to Tom Wolfe’s campus novel I Am Charlotte Simmons, currently a best-seller at college bookstores. Adult reviewers nearly uniformly pooh-poohed Wolfe for concocting a supposedly voyeuristic fantasy about sex- and alcohol-ridden campuses, and accused him of being an old man who didn’t understand how wonderful the sexual revolution was. College-age reviewers writing in their campus newspapers turned out to feel differently–that Wolfe had picked up with deadly accuracy the degrading quality of most undergrad sex. (See my Tom Wolfe Got It Right After All, Feb. 10.)
Out of the mouths of babes, they say. It’s young people themselves, not the wannabe-hip “adult” leftovers from the 1960s, who can see clearly that the death of romance championed by their elders has starved them spiritually and emotionally.