The Clare Spark Blog

July 26, 2015

Masters of Sex, second wave feminism, and the ratings game

masters-and-johnson-4140196600[Update: the third season finale left me infuriated, for “Bill” cannot escape his father’s whippings so as to pursue Virginia who is running off with her new lover. As psychoanalyst Henry Murray once wisely  wrote, the variation of the myth where the hero fails to beat the monster is “unendurable for a small child to endure.” The small child in me was disappointed and agitated. But perhaps that is what season finales are designed to do: cliff hanging, but it struck an unnecessarily pessimistic note about the human capacity to ever overcome the traumas of childhood. I think that Thomas Maier is uncomfortable with this series.]

I have written about this series before, twice. (See https://clarespark.com/2014/08/16/ferguson-mi-masters-of-sex-and-the-dilemma-of-the-white-liberal/, with link to the first one.)

The second episode the third season of Masters of Sex  threw me for a loop, so, especially in light of the controversy over Planned Parenthood, I thought I should write a blog about it.

The series about Masters and Johnson’s path breaking studies of the physiology of the human sexual response (1966) takes great liberties with the facts of their lives, in my view, because of the need to appeal to an audience which is already “liberated” but which also might retain many social conservative viewers, or sadder but wiser ex-feminists.

Michelle Ashford (b. 1960), the creator of the Showtime hit series, was hip to the sexual revolution, and appears to have taken advantage of the second wave of feminism, along with the gay movement, and the early civil rights movement, but this season she seems more attuned to broadening her audience beyond aging veterans of 60s social movements.

First, a word about the character of Virginia Masters (played by Lizzy Caplan), who is constantly billed as “ahead of her time,” because as a former night club singer, she is neither frigid, nor hung up on monogamy, but participates in non-committed sleeping around. In other words, she behaves like a single heterosexual male. (This is only attributed to ‘feminism by conservatives, for many second wave feminists were indeed doormats for men, but were more often interested in breaking into male-dominated professions and businesses.)

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan

But this season, the chickens come to roost, and the (fictionalized) children of both chief characters are teen agers, and predictably defiant and critical of their parents’ unavailability. This causes Virginia’s underage son to enlist in the military (during Viet Nam!), and leads to comfort sex with her first husband, which leaves her pregnant, just in time for the release of the Masters and Johnson book on the physiology of the human sexual response.

Since Bill Masters (played to perfection by Michael Sheen) won’t leave his wife, Virginia remains unmarried. She tells Bill that she is about to have an abortion, but as the abortion is about to take place, she abruptly decides to bring the baby to term. (A hat tip to pro-lifers? Or a way to advance the plot, for Bill is now aghast at having a pregnant unmarried co-author who will come off as a slut, marring the respectability of their twelve-year endeavor?)

So Virginia and husband #1 remarry to save the book, much to George Johnson’s discomfort, for he wants a real re-marriage.

Now comes the part that shocked me. Perhaps under the influence of pregnancy hormones that have aroused her maternal instincts, Virginia has a fit of self-incrimination, as she declares that she was never there for her two children, and should have chosen devoted stay-at-home motherhood instead of her career. I don’t know an intelligent woman who has not had these same doubts.

Indeed, my own conclusion is that we, the gifted women, are doomed, should we want both children and the full development of our ambitions to achieve outside the home.

The episode ends with Bill driving off after looking at the new baby, a girl, and the first husband hangs around the nursery with Virginia, gazing at their new child. I sense a double triangle in the next episodes, or more likely Virginia will sleep with a new character played by Josh Charles, prompting Bill to finally leave a sexless, old-fashioned, marriage.

In real life, Masters and Johnson were married until 1991, when Bill left her. For author’s Thomas Maier’s comments on these characters see http://time.com/3880364/the-real-masters-of-sex-life-with-masters-and-johnson/. (Maier does not comment on the pandering in the Showtime series to the soft-porn audience along with hot button social movements, but does raise the possibility that Virginia never loved Bill.)

masters2

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September 21, 2014

Spanking, sex, and the NFL fracas

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Spanking Club, 1935

Spanking Club, 1935

On his Friday “live audience” program, September 19, 2014, Sean Hannity went over the NFL controversy, his attention frequently wandering to child abuse, which he read as part of “Southern culture”; hence the stigmatizing of “child abuse” is  discriminatory toward a region where corporal punishment is the norm. (Hooray for “Southern culture”—that always had a reputation in the North for pseudo-aristocratic conduct, violent manliness, and dueling. I am not fond of theories of regional character any more than I am of theories of national character. See https://clarespark.com/2014/07/20/national-character-does-it-exist/.)

I then commenced to plotz. For Hannity repeated over and over that his own father had taken the belt to him when he was bad, but he, Sean Hannity, had never laid a hand on his own children. Moreover he had lived in several Southern states where other kids got “whooped” and look how well he turned out, in spite of his childhood travails, which are apparently part of a regional culture, and resistant to change. (For the left-leaning BBC’s view of the controversy, foregrounding black modes of punishment, see http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-29261462. For an entirely different view see this infographic disseminated by an online psychology degree outfit: http://www.online-psychology-degrees.org/psychology-of-spanking/, which I recommend highly.)

Back to the Hannity show. My mind immediately wandered to the sadomasochism collection at UCLA, where I spent two anxiety-ridden weeks looking at the misogynistic and often pornographic collages, photographs, and drawings of Steadman Thompson, a now deceased middle-manager employed by a Pennsylvania corporation. There are 52 boxes of his stuff.

Here is what I learned about spanking from two weeks in another’s sick brain. Children who are spanked cannot have orgasms in adulthood without being spanked by their partners. It was as simple as that—at least in the materials collected by S.T.

Similarly, on the last episode of Masters of Sex, Dr. William Masters gets over his two-year bout of impotence after his alcoholic brother slugs him hard on the jaw. Bleeding, with perhaps a broken nose, “Bill” refuses nursing attentions from his mistress Virginia Johnson, and returns to his former manliness and the performance principle. Meanwhile, his icy wife, Libby Masters is volunteering at the local office of CORE in St. Louis. Let’s see if she warms up after consummating what looks like a budding relationship with a black man.

Image (115)

For more on what I found in the Steadman Thompson collection, see https://clarespark.com/2009/07/13/eros-and-the-middle-manager-s-m-with-implications-for-multiculturalism/.

August 16, 2014

Ferguson MO, Masters of Sex, and the dilemma of the white liberal

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

Imipassioned integrationist demands action from white doctor

[For my first take on this series, see https://clarespark.com/2013/10/22/masters-of-sex-and-70s-feminism/%5D

By an odd coincidence, the last episode of Showtime’s hit series Masters of Sex (10 August, 2014), took on the problem of race relations in St. Louis Missouri at the same time that the suburb of Ferguson was exploding in looting and confrontations between “militarized” police and blacks.

This blog is about the double bind white liberal writers are trapped in, given the particular history of race relations in the US. Should they rescue the black population from bigotry  (e.g., Huckleberry Finn, Intruder In The Dust, affirmative action/multiculturalism/whiteness studies) or is it up to blacks to save themselves (e.g., the Black Power movement “by any means necessary”)? (For my blogs on the black power movement see https://clarespark.com/2010/07/15/index-to-black-power-blogs/)

In the last episode of Masters of Sex, Courtney Vance plays Dr. Charles Hendricks, the head of Buell Green, a “Negro” hospital in St. Louis, who has hired the twice disgraced William Masters, expecting him to carry out (Vance’s) specifically “integrationist” project. But Dr. Masters doesn’t see that convincing his white patients to follow him to a dubious neighborhood in the era of segregation is not his, but Hendricks’s priority, a point missed by the Los Angeles Times recap (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-st-masters-of-sex-recap-racial-tension-flares-at-bills-new-hospital-20140810-story.html.) Masters tells Hendricks that he has his own battle ahead in pursuing his tabooed research on the physiology of sex, while handing off to his mistress the task of persuading his old patients off to follow him to an all black hospital. Virginia, stereotypically enough, is more emotionally attuned and hence more manipulative than he is. The last shots show “Hendricks” leaving in a huff, for the second time pulling down a flyer that Virginia Johnson had put up, soliciting volunteers for the sex study that she and Bill had initiated, and that is, like her, “ahead of her time.”

Disgusted "Hendricks"

Disgusted “Hendricks”

[Earlier in the episode, Masters had shown himself to be unusually empathic with blacks by chastising his reactionary wife “Libby” for forcing her black maid to wash her hair (under the delusion that “Coral” had brought lice into the house). She half-heartedly apologizes to Coral’s protective ‘boyfriend’, who classifies her with hopelessly insensitive “white people.” Yet both Bill and Virginia are seemingly floored by the request to adjust their priorities, putting militant integrationism ahead of their sex project.]

The producers and writers of Masters of Sex are nothing if not present-minded, inventing situations and characters that are the essence of political correctness. Seizing on snippets of the real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration and then their ultimately failed marriage (divorced in 1992), the creators populate their series with assertive women struggling against the odds, repressed authoritarian males, closeted lesbians, tormented homosexuals pretending to be straight then seeking “conversion,” aging women, prostitutes, oppressed but passive-aggressive blacks, outspoken blacks—all characters who have starred in the social movements of the 1960s and 70s; the target audience is presumably fascinated by the transformations they believe they have wrought via their activism.  

But with the presence of the ardently integrationist “Charles Hendricks” (who sees himself as a pioneer like William Masters) Showtime has placed itself in a political quagmire, for the American polity (both Left and Right) has no idea how to proceed in the romantic project of making up for generations of slavery, then Jim Crow. The real history of the Masters and Johnson collaboration is interesting enough, but present-mindedness (judging the past through the lens of present mores) is the real spoiler. Like the shows on HBO, Showtime delivers soft porn and the frisson, whatever literary merit surfaces now and then (and it does in the episode where, through Virginia’s skillful extraction, Bill exposes his relations with his cold, abandoning father).

(PS. I could find zero pictures on the internet showing angry confrontations between Libby, Coral, or her ‘boyfriend’ Robert (really her half-brother as we will discover in episode 6), even though these tense encounters are in the script of episode 5. Real life does not imitate art.)

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

Sunny view of Libby-Robert confrontation

July 6, 2014

The Hobby Lobby Decision and the War on Women

silencedwomanThree events prompt this blog today: 1. Last night I saw the much praised “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” for the first time (out of anxiety in watching a fiercely antagonistic marriage told through an existentialist lens?); 2. There was a Masters of Sex marathon in preparation for the second season starting next Sunday on Showtime; and 3. One of the panelists on Fox News Sunday predicted that Democrats would benefit from the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision, one that upheld the right of businesses to withhold abortifacients from their employees in the cause of “religious liberty.” This blog is definitely NOT about government forcing pro-life advocates to provide free contraception/abortifacients.

Start with Lizzy Caplan’s character “Virginia Johnson”—a witty and streetwise young woman “ahead of her time” as the show is set in the repressed 1950s, and the bohemian Virginia (a divorced ex-singer with a swing band and mother of two children) is a model of sexual freedom, outspokenness, an advocate for “women’s health”, and a reluctance to commit to bourgeois marriage. (The women’s health argument is currently featured in the talking points of liberal feminists reacting with shock and anger at the Hobby Lobby 5-4 decision.)

Which reminds me: numerous professionals on current television series are depicted as monomaniacally devoted to their professions, and wary of marital commitments (both “Alicia Florrick” and the late “Will Gardner” on The Good Wife, “ “Dr. Katherine Black” and her doctor lover on Black Box, “Olivia Benson” on Law and Order: SVU, “Meghan Draper” on Mad Men, and even “Olivia Pope” on Scandal. Is it any accident that married women or “male feminists” created most of these shows?

I have written numerous blogs criticizing the focus on sexuality to the exclusion of the context in which sex happens or doesn’t happen; I have also written about “the family” as the site of strife and even bondage—a point that is obscured by political rhetoric deploying the rhetoric of heterosexual family unity either to buttress collectivist ideology, or to fend off the decadence and poverty that conservatives attribute to illegitimate birth and mother-headed (usually minority) families.

I have also written extensively about misogyny, a neglected subject in defenses of male homosexuality, even as male critics praise film noir as their favorite genre, a genre that gloried in representations of the “femme fatale,” carrying forth the stereotype of the terrifying “woman with book” (as Leo Steinberg called her, in one of his popular lectures: I believe that the newly literate woman is one of the monsters inhabiting the Tory imagination: Woman as Jew of the Home). (See https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/, retitled “Film Noir decoded”.)

Also on this website, I have emphasized developments in the diagnoses of mental health problems, both aligning with and opposing the anti-psychiatry movement. I should have mentioned more frequently that individual psychiatry is no substitute for family therapy—a field that presumably closely examines how individuals in families relate to one another—or fail utterly owing to underdevelopment of the emotions in our supposedly “modern” society. Such family or couples therapy presumably avail themselves of attachment theory.

But most to the point, I have criticized the omnipresent, belabored usage of the phrase “hard work” especially as the key to achieving “the American Dream.” The subject of women’s labor in the home, with or without male participation, is rarely treated with the respect and caution it deserves: surely the second wave feminists were often on the lam and only partly deserved my scorn.

In one of my favorite episodes of Masters of Sex, Lizzy Caplan (“Virginia Johnson”) sings “You Don’t Know Me”—either a conventional love song about a triangle, or an ironic comment on a doctor lover who wants to tie her down, while her heart remains with another. She is in a booth in an amusement park, with the (temporary) boyfriend and her children looking fondly at her while she warns them through music not to presume anything about the content of her inner thoughts. (For the entire clip see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjfQwNXSfgo.) We have always lived in hierarchies, whatever the pretensions of democratic “egalitarianism” may be. Let those higher up in the food chain beware: You don’t know me/us.

As I have said over and over, “hierarchies breed deceit.” The Woman Question may never go away; in any case, the women’s vote may well decide the next series of elections. And it will be about sexual freedom. (For my explanation of “sexual freedom” see https://clarespark.com/2014/07/08/what-is-sexual-freedom/)

Image (84)-001

October 22, 2013

“Masters of Sex” and 70s feminism

masters-of-sex_[Update: December 10, 2013. This has turned out to be the most feminist show I have ever seen on television. Far deeper as it developed than anticipated when I first wrote this blog. Lizzy Caplan singing “You Don’t Know Me” in episode 11 said it all, for all women.]

This blog is not about porn, but about the la-dee-da attitude shown by some feminists not only with respect to the rigors of child-rearing, but without prior understanding of the emotional components and complications of human sexuality. I remember reading John Bowlby’s pioneering work on attachment theory and separation anxiety (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bowlby). I don’t remember which of his many books I read, but I remember thinking that the feminists of my acquaintance would probably hate his theories, as he emphasized the crucial role of mothering in early childhood, with lifelong dire effects if not properly managed (some of his theorizing was probably autobiographical, but what about Winnicott and Mahler?).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masters_of_Sex

http://www.npr.org/2013/07/30/206704520/pioneering-masters-of-sex-brought-science-to-the-bedroom

I. I will take a partly dim look at the new Showtime series Masters of Sex, created by a woman, Michelle Ashford. I have watched the first four episodes and see this effort as another docudrama that represents a hidden history of science and sex. The hint in the NPR summary is wildly mistaken that (the ubiquitous) Freud was displaced by a more accurate measurement of, to use the character Dr. William Master’s words, “What happens to the body during sex?” During my dissertation research, I was surprised to discover that the two of the three ogres of the 19th century, Marx and Freud (not Darwin), were not equally loathed and feared. The bourgeois Freud was far more controversial as progressives went about reconstructing the humanities curriculum. (Here is my index on Freud blogs: https://clarespark.com/2013/03/16/blogs-on-freud-and-anti-freudians/.)

Briefly, Freud saw repressed sexuality as the source of hysteria and other psychosomatic ailments, and leaned heavily on the Oedipus complex, but few had the money and time to indulge in the “talking cure.” And who wanted to recognize ambivalence within families, or lifelong troubled attachments to the parent of the opposite sex? Freud’s colleague Carl Jung was a different story: he saw Freud’s Id as a source of creativity (as opposed of everyday unhappiness), and many a Jungian analyst used Jung’s dubious theory of archetypes to treat their clients. In the battle of the titans: Jung versus Freud, the younger man penetrated school curricula and the practice of social psychology. (For my copious blogs on Jung and his followers see https://clarespark.com/2010/05/10/jungians-rising/.)

II. Michelle Ashford is the creator of the series. A brief internet search does not link her with the second wave of feminism, but the major demands of 1970s feminism—to celebrate liberated sexuality, to eliminate back-alley abortions, to establish day care centers in workplaces, to de-stigmatize homosexuality, to bring fathers further into the day-to-day burdens of child-rearing, to recognize prostitutes as “sex workers” and not pariahs, to rewrite history to emphasize the roles and condition of women (often in Women’s Studies departments), to break through the “glass ceiling,” to identify “science” with masculinity and the illicit penetration of Mother Earth—have at least partly been accomplished. (For an example of “feminist science” see the work of Donna Haraway and Carolyn Merchant. For a rehabilitation of domestic feminism see Kathryn Kish Sklar’s book on Catherine Beecher.)

Though network television does not show breasts and buttocks, female actors playing professionals often show their cleavage in the dead of winter. But on pay for cable networks like HBO and Showtime, sex acts are routinely demonstrated, though not with male frontal nudity or the details available in porn shops. The achievement of Masters of Sex, though it seems to be a defense of the liberated woman, is the separation of romance and sexuality. I.e., women are entitled to be as promiscuous and detached in their sex lives as men are imagined to be. As the series proceeds, I hope that more nuance is brought into the subject.

Ashford’s heroine, “Virginia Johnson” as played by Lizzy Caplan, is represented as “ahead of her time.” She is the mother of two, both in the series and in Johnson’s real life. That is, like many women today, she believes that she  can “have it all.”

I wish that it were that simple. Perhaps robots will be devoid of the feelings that we have yet to master. But such fantasies do get eyeballs to the television set, and the actors (Michael Sheen is outstanding) are fine.

[Added 10-23-13: Upon thinking it over and considering what crappy jobs many men hold, a woman is lucky to be a wife and mother if she has a good man to support her. When babies are tiny, it is undoubtedly strenuous, but there is no greater intellectual, physical, and emotional challenge than holding a marriage together and raising functioning children who go on to successful relationships in every sphere of life. I include self-direction and independent thought as desirable in offspring. I don’t think that this judgment disqualifies me as an advocate for women’s rights.] [Added 10-29-13: Episode five was well done, since it showed the mother of Masters in complete denial as to her son’s mental problems. She socialized him to be a stoic, and “Virginia Johnson” touches him with words, understanding that nobody could be so strong as to be detached from the loss of a child (and other distorted relationships), and Michael Sheen does a persuasive job in acting out a man cracking up with hitherto repressed grief. Everyone should watch this episode, for the series is about much more than acceptable porn for the middle class.]

For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2014/07/06/the-hobby-lobby-decision-and-the-war-on-women/.

The real Masters and Johnson

The real Masters and Johnson

September 4, 2012

Links to some blogs on feminism

Crone with fruit

https://clarespark.com/2016/06/09/sex-and-aggression-in-hillarys-following-in-either-gender/

https://clarespark.com/2016/05/06/the-womens-vote/

https://clarespark.com/2016/04/29/the-woman-card/

https://clarespark.com/2016/04/01/70s-feminism-and-its-bizarre-legacy/

https://clarespark.com/2015/07/26/masters-of-sex-second-wave-feminism-and-the-ratings-game/

https://clarespark.com/2015/03/21/great-goddess-feminism-the-phyllis-chesler-model/

https://clarespark.com/2015/01/10/the-case-for-feminism/

https://clarespark.com/2014/12/18/rape-culture/

https://clarespark.com/2014/06/14/is-the-us-feminized-a-fathers-day-blog/

https://clarespark.com/2014/01/23/androgyny/

https://clarespark.com/2013/10/22/masters-of-sex-and-70s-feminism/

https://clarespark.com/2013/05/02/teen-age-sex/

https://clarespark.com/2013/09/15/authenticity-and-the-bottled-up/

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/14/father-dear-father-come-home-with-me-now/ (includes material on gender roles)

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/02/hair-and-make-up-megyn-kelly-smackdown/

https://clarespark.com/2012/10/03/the-sexual-revolution-2/

https://clarespark.com/2012/12/26/martha-gellhorn-blogs/

https://clarespark.com/2012/05/10/androgyny-with-an-aside-on-edna-ferber/

https://clarespark.com/2012/03/03/sluts-and-pigs/ (retitled Limbaugh v. Fluke)

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/01/sex-sex-and-less-sex/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/

https://clarespark.com/2012/11/15/female-genitals-as-red-flag/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/08/what-is-a-materialist/

https://clarespark.com/2012/01/07/feminism-and-its-publicists/

https://clarespark.com/2011/11/12/the-woman-question-in-saul-bellows-herzog/

https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/ (retitled Film noir decoded)

https://clarespark.com/2009/12/23/she-who-gets-slapped-the-magic-of-middle-aged-boomerdom/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/20/news-from-the-social-justice-front/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/23/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/24/murdered-by-the-mob-moral-mothers-and-symbolist-poets-2/

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