Lynn has been reading John Stuart Mill, and applying him to the question of whether there is such a thing as a right to rule out potential romantic partners for lame and shallow reasons. This is maybe a sign that I should read Mill myself — all I recall is some mostly-forgotten college text — but this reminds me of why I keep getting tangled in knots whenever I start thinking about rights outside of the legal context.
Lynn opens with Mill’s definition of a right:
When we call anything a person’s right, we mean that he has a valid claim on society to protect him in the possession of it, either by the force of law, or by that of education or opinion. … If we desire to prove that anything does not belong to him by right, we think this done as soon as it is admitted that society ought not to take measures for securing it to him, but should leave it to change, or to his own exertions.
I assume that “change” there is supposed to be “chance.” But either way, here’s Lynn’s conclusion regarding sexual prejudices:
…though people, in my take, absolutely have the right to categorically exclude other people from their dating pool, they don’t have any particular right to have said excluded people feel warm and fuzzy about them, or continue to be their friends, buddies, and confidants, cheering them on when their love lives go well, and sympathizing with them when their love lives don’t go so well. … So, if Judith Warner’s friends should prefer to exclusively pursue hot, young babes, and if they should pursue said hot, young babes without either feeling entitled to more attention than the hot, young babes are willing to give them or actively insulting the women their own age that they don’t want to date, they have a right to be left alone in any mutual relationships they form.
One thing that strikes me about this is that Lynn specifies that the excluded people have a right not to support this behavior. But surely everyone else has that right too. If a man’s male friend disapproves of his chasing hot, young babes, he has a right not to be the wingman, doesn’t he? And if enough people voluntarily withdraw from a man’s life for this reason, they are effectively shunning him. I suppose Lynn is drawing a contrast here between leaving them alone and actively sabotaging the relationship somehow, but I don’t know if there’d be a more effective means of doing that than a mass defriending.
Of course, shunning isn’t as effective as it used to be, since many times people can just go out and find a new set of friends. This may be why, as Lynn points out, many people nowadays seem to think of rights entirely in terms of laws. But still, social norms do have power, so what is a person who finds himself generally despised, but saying, “I have a right!” actually claiming?
Let’s look at the particular argument that drew in Lynn, which was a debate between Hugo Schwyzer and a blogger named Miguel about male sexual entitlement. Miguel is arguing for, essentially, equal rights for men who are usually sexually discriminated against. “It follows from this that “women,” at least in theory, have an obligation to keep an open mind about having sexual relations with men who stand at different levels in the unspoken social hierarchy – that is, men who may be shy and not comport with traditional notions of masculinity – even if no individual woman ever has the obligation to reciprocate my sexual interest.”
To some extent, I follow his thinking here. Social taboos have previously ruled out certain people from sexual relations — because they’re disabled, or the wrong race, or some such thing — who are now generally accepted, and now, though they still might have difficulties, they are able to find partners. What if people got over their simplistic prejudices about age, looks, swagger, or whatever, and gave the low men a shot?
To some extent, bringing Mill into this is confusing matters because equal rights and male entitlement are two different things. Apart from maybe a few hippie communes, I don’t think there’s been a time in history when all men felt entitled to sex with all women. Rather, the sense of entitlement came from attaining some benchmark — high social class, wealth, victory in battle, or something like that. Or something less spectacular like taking a wedding vow, which up until quite recently was assumed to entitle you to sex. The point is that these weren’t human rights, but rights acquired by some particular actions or circumstances. The new feminist idea that underlies this argument, I think, is the concept that nobody ever owes anyone sex for any reason. The only good reason to have sex is desire.
Indeed, Miguel isn’t talking just about the right to perform the physical act with a member of the opposite sex. If that were the case, then we’d be debating whether prostitution should be legal (and, if we’re being really egalitarian, subsidized!), since that would be a much more efficient means of distributing sex to the sexless. I can only assume that what he wants is a greater equality of desire, or more specifically, an equality of being desired. That’s a cause most women can probably sympathize with, since, contrary to popular male belief, women can also go through droughts of feeling truly desired. But the thing about equality is that it has a way of making all people seem the same, when being desired is about feeling special. This seems to get us to the Lake Wobegon syndrome — everyone wants to be above average! But most people seem to manage to be special to at least a few people, even though they live in the fat part of the bell curve.
It’s getting really late, and I don’t have a good conclusion to this. But those are my thoughts. Good night!