From Smh.com.auLet’s talk about sex (buffy mention)
By Brigid Delaney
Saturday 8 January 2005, by Webmaster
It was an end-of-term soiree held in his small office at Melbourne University. Eight of us sat in the too-warm room with dying pot plants, drinking cask claret and basking in the charisma of the middle-aged man. What impressed us most about our professor was his passion for politics and the way he spoke to us as if we were adults. He was more engaging than any of the teachers I’d known at high school and had none of their weariness.
The small party moved to the Clyde Hotel at sundown. He brought us jugs of beer, nachos and even a packet of cigarettes to share. He told us funny stories about other faculty members and the advances he fought off from the mother of one of his students.
Before he rode onto the streets of Carlton, a little drunk on his bicycle, he told us that it was probably unwise to be at the pub with students. Had we seen the graffiti in the Baillieu Library toilets saying that he slept with students in return for giving them a high distinction? We hadn’t.
There was a smear campaign, he said. A group of feminists was out to get him. He didn’t see students now in his office without the door open. Suddenly he seemed nervous and afraid. In a second, our roles were reversed. This intellectual giant - our lecturer - was looking to a bunch of 18-year-olds for reassurance.
But it was 1992, and something was churning up the old notions of power on campus. That year discussions of sex and power were thick in the air.
The college up the road from where I lived was battling with the far-reaching consequences of a sex scandal, in which the master of Ormond was said to have made advances to two students and the college’s sexual harassment guidelines were seen as a toothless tiger. The women went to the police.
Workplaces, as well as schools and universities, formed committees to draw up sexual harassment guidelines; to fail to do so would result in exposure to liability. And so those at the tail end of generation X came of age in a time of political correctness.
The literature at the time reacted to the movement, with David Mamet’s Oleanna and, in Australia, Helen Garner’s The First Stone and David Williamson’s Dead White Males.
In the United States, political correctness on campus was also at its peak. A lot of this fear and loathing on American campuses and in workplaces was channelled into concern about date rape. The concept had a relatively low profile until the 1990s, when its sudden assurgence changed the sexual landscape. Sexual desire - or eros, as Garner had called it - was, suddenly, refracted through sexual harassment laws, the courts and legislation.
Katie Roiphe’s book The Morning After was released in 1994, responding to the pelting fury that the movement had become. "Rape," said Roiphe, "becomes a catch-all expression, a word used to define everything that is unpleasant and disturbing about relations between the sexes." The book caused a storm in its denouncement of political correctness, saying life was a lot muddier - and sexuality murkier - so everyone should relax a bit. Her message was this: when people are young and tasting freedom and alcohol at the same time, the result can produce regrets, but it should not produce lawsuits.
Toby Young also wrote about the cautious climate at American universities in his 2002 book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.
"I picked a bad time to enrol at an Ivy League university," Young says. "When I arrived at Harvard in September 1997, the country was in the grip of a political correctness epidemic. The entire student body seemed to be afflicted ... Anyone hoping to have sex had to follow a byzantine code called ’the Antioch rules’ whereby you had to seek the woman’s permission at every stage of the seduction process. The Antioch rules probably did more to curb promiscuity on America’s campuses in the 1980s than the AIDS epidemic."
So what’s happened since?
The young people so protected by the new legislation, guidelines and protocols are now entering their 30s. Johanna Wyn has been studying these graduates of the early 1990s since they completed school.
During 13 years of study, she found many of them were initially resistant to marriage and commitment, "As people are getting towards 26 or 27 they said, ’I think family is not what I want’. But when they got to 30, both men and women were saying, ’I would have thought I would have had a stable partner by now, but it’s not happening.’ "
In her last collated survey in 2002, "they were definitely disappointed and a little puzzled [their love life] hadn’t worked out yet". According to Wyn, 51, this generation is not marrying in great numbers. "There’s a lot of instability. It’s hard to make a commitment if you can’t get a house or somewhere stable to live because of high housing costs."
Many in the class of 1991 are victims of the "soulmate syndrome" - searching for the perfect partner who may not exist. They are - in short - a product of the politically correct climate that wants nothing left to chance.
Only 10 years later, generation Y has grown up in a different climate and harbours different attitudes and behaviour.
The Sex in Australia survey released last year shows that boys and girls are first having sex at about 16 - the same age as they were 10 years ago.
But academic Rebecca Huntley, who has researched the lives of 60 Sydneysiders under 22, says: "Gender differences between young men and women are breaking down, but girls are far more sexually confident and aggressive. This generation are very anti-victimhood. They don’t want to see themselves as victims of a system and they are more likely to blame the individual."
So if an Ormond-style sexual harassment case were to happen now, Huntley says, "the general trend is girls are more likely to seek self-help from friends rather than institutions".
She cites the Bulldogs rape allegations as an example where a young woman seeking help from institutions fared badly - hounded by the press and ultimately not receiving a result through the courts.
Recent cross-examination of a young woman in the Tara school case about wearing a short skirt compounds the cynicism young people may feel about seeking justice from the usual channels.
Huntley says that while generation X was characterised by "a hard core of feminist politics on campus", the real recognition by generation Y has been "the failure of legislation to eradicate bad behaviour. This generation is much more likely to rely on self-help. They have faith in friendship networks, tribalism and kinship."
Huntley speculates this may be because feminism has achieved one of its aims: the notion of equality between the sexes. And now that we have it, the idea of gender is dying in its wake.
Both sexes are enamoured by their friendships. "They are much more romantic about friendships than sexual relationships. They say, ’My friends are my soul, my life and I will be with them until I die.’ They have genuinely romantic notions. They don’t get that through sex - it’s through friends."
TV shows popular with generation Y, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, reflect this, with the friendship group elevated above any love interests or couplings in the show. Sex on campus is a reflection of this - with students "hooking up" with members of their friendship group for casual sex or a relationship.
So, are we moving towards headier times or is the caution that existed in the early 1990s still casting a shadow?
Among young Australians, it is hard to nail down a trend. Each year along the east coast 17- and 18-year-olds get loaded on booze and drugs and head to the beach for sex and fun. Yet growing numbers are joining evangelical churches such as Hillsong, and, like Australian Idol’s Guy Sebastian, pledging no sex until they marry.
But perhaps the truth is a more gentle reality. Huntley has found "[young people] normally find sexual relationships through friendships - forged through part-time work or study".