For Jacoby, women’s embrace of online sexuality is a betrayal of the feminism her generation fought for:
As a feminist, I find it infinitely sad to imagine a vibrant young woman sitting alone at her computer and turning herself into a sex object for a man (or a dog) she does not know — even if she is also turning him into a sex object. Twentieth-century feminism always linked the social progress of women with an expanding sense of self-worth — in the sexual as well as intellectual and professional spheres. A willingness to engage in Internet sex with strangers, however, expresses not sexual empowerment but its opposite — a loneliness and low opinion of oneself that leads to the conclusion that any sexual contact is better than no contact at all… This is not the sort of equality envisioned by feminism.
I don’t think Jacoby necessarily set out to write a shaming and anti-feminist essay. She asks a question that is certainly valid — Why do women engage in online sex? But instead of taking the bold step of posing that question to actual women, Jacoby skips the evidence gathering and jumps to her own conclusions.
And this is where my feminism and Jacoby’s feminism begin to diverge. Because my feminism demands that women be allowed to speak for themselves.
“I didn’t fight my whole life so you could behave like X” is always the saddest argument, because it’s so obviously a white flag of surrender. I hear this over and over and over during the Generational Feminism Olympics, in which younger women are always Doing It Wrong, because we do not act in such a way that recognizes the aims of whoever is personally deploring our short skirts and naughty language or decision to stay home with the kids or whatever. I hear this over and over every time some injustice is brought to light: I would be out in the streets, but you’re not, and that’s wrong. I didn’t make choice Y so that you could make a different choice. I marched in the boulevard, I bloodied my head, I chained myself to the courthouse rail, and you don’t live up to that.
The trouble with fighting to better the next generation is that it inevitably puts responsibility on that generation to do work that isn’t theirs, so as to validate the suffering of those who came before. It’s not my job to live up to your fights, to be worthy of your pain, to make your suffering worth it, and too much of the passing of the torch has to do with people thinking that at some point they can stop fighting the fights that are important to them, lay down their burdens, and be done. That it will become someone else’s job to be awesome, because they’re tired, and it’s time to rest.
I get it. I do. It’s exhausting having to continue to argue that women are people, that they deserve control over their bodies, that they should preach from the pulpit and lead in the boardroom and work on the factory floor. It’s exhausting watching men and other women not help you with that cause, that effort, as you get up every day and grind just one more step forward and feel yourself forced two steps back. And it’s been decades now, and why is it still so fucking hard?
Your fights are yours. Your burdens are yours. And your fighting stops when you decide it does, no later, no sooner. If you keep waiting for somebody else to live the life you wish they would, all you’re doing is putting off living that life yourself. Fighting that fight yourself.nThe generational blaming, the slut-shaming, the nonsense, the Oppression Olympics, it’s all just a way to get around you doing what needs to be done, by making it somebody else’s problem so that you can feel better about not solving it yourself.
The shorter gets the stick with which I poke 40, the more I realize that the day on which I will be able to cross the finish line and just watch some damn TV in peace? That day ain’t coming. And the reason it ain’t coming is that everybody has their own job to do. I’m not responsible to the previous generation or to the next, just as neither of those is responsible to me. We all live lives balanced on the edge of a knife somebody else sharpened; we all benefit from changes that happened before us. We all get up every day and fight the fights that need fighting, and we all decide which fights those are.
And we either make our peace with that, or we end up writing pieces in the NYT about how young ladies who have sexytimes online are exploiting themselves but are too stupid to know it, and what a letdown that is to us.