2014-02-26

Alter Ego

I.
I thought I could keep Lauren and Aurora separate, compartmentalize parts of myself, and have two alter egos. Perhaps in hindsight that’s not healthy for me. I’m still getting used to the integration of the two, but, that being said, I do not want my identity to be porn star. I want my identity to be Lauren: activist, kind, sweet girl. I don’t want be defined by my work.
A young girl who does not want to be pigeonholed into being a sex object decides to carve out a separate sexual identity for herself, an identity that she does not actually want to interact with the rest of the situations in her life. She gives it a different name, a different standard of sexual morals, and a different set of waking hours in the day. She then proceeds as though she, Lauren, does not need to accept personal responsibility for the actions of "Aurora." This itself indicates that Lauren is ashamed of Aurora, that Lauren does not subscribe to Aurora's morality. And this is what makes the rest of what she says so shameful.

II.
She's giving lots of interviews. I suppose the people who want to cheer for her - because having a bunch of leering creeps attempt to ruin your life based on a single choice is invidious - will read interviews like the one in NY Mag and come to believe she is intelligent.

For my part, I find her thoroughly confused. She seems to lack a moral compass. She seems to be afraid of her own choices, and she seems to want to escape the consequences of her actions. This is obvious enough from the mere fact that she created a literal alter-ego on whom to pin her most questionable decisions.

The entire interview is illuminating. Here's a noteworthy sample:
You wrote in your xoJane essay about how unfair it is that women carry the full moral burden of sexuality, so I wanted to talk about the guy who outed you to a fraternity. It seems like he’s the one who morally transgressed, here.
I begged him not to tell anybody. We went to a party that same night, and he got really drunk. I wasn’t with him when he told all the people. He knew I didn’t want people knowing, but he told people. Immediately after I realized that he told people, I told him, “You have just ruined my life,” and I completely meant that. I’m not sure he understands the gravity of what he did. That being said, nobody deserves to be harassed and I don’t want people to harass or threaten him. I think he needs to take personal responsibility and come to terms with it and that’s his thing. We were friends, but I will never talk to him again. He forgot my personhood and my humanity for the sake of spreading a juicy rumor, for the sake of saying, “I’m friends with a porn star.”
What is perhaps most interesting about this comment is her use of the word "rumor." She has admitted to doing what she does, so why refer to this as a "rumor," rather than what it is: a fact?

The young woman is not smart enough to keep herself out of a bad situation, but she is smart enough to deflect matters when her choices are scrutinized, and deftly so.
You’re not the first woman at Duke who has come under intense scrutiny for her sexual choices. Is there something about the environment that explains why the rumor prevailed over your humanity? [Note that the interviewer continues with the "rumor" charade. - ed.]
Duke is an extremely complex culture, but I’m just going to go out and say it: We are a culture that disrespects and slut-shames women. If you look at the anonymous CollegiateACB forums of other schools, there are maybe four topics. At Duke, there are 800 topics. All of them are “rate freshman girls on a scale of one to 10” or “which Asian has the biggest boobs.” So Duke has this — and I blame the Greek system a lot for this — culture of objectifying women.

I personally attribute that to male privilege. The median income of students at Duke is $350,000. So you have these rich, entitled males coming to Duke and what that translates to is a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies and women’s sex. Men essentially feel entitled to have sex with us because they’re used to getting everything they’ve ever wanted. You have this extremely intense school that’s really competitive academically and then you add into the mix a social scene that’s rooted in social hierarchy and wealth, and then you combine that with male privilege and chauvinism and misogyny and what you have is this really horrible rape culture.
So instead of coming to terms with the complicated moral issues associated with her decision to get involved with pornography, she rants against male sexuality. This is astounding. A woman who sells men downloadable sex decides to criticize the primary end user of that product because they have the nerve to objectify women? The mind fairly reels.

Next, she decides that the issue is not actually about someone violating her privacy, nor is it about the objectification of women. Instead, she decides it's about rape [emphases added]:
Women are so discouraged from reporting it because, as institutions, colleges want to keep the sexual-assault rates low so they look good to other colleges. Women are simply silenced or not given the proper resources. In many colleges, probably most colleges, the punishment for rape is a slap on the wrist. That’s something that we need to evaluate and consider: what kind of message that sends to the young women of the world. It tells them that their dignity and their humanity isn’t important enough to the university to do anything about it.

I’m not very fun to go to parties with. All my friends are getting drunk and when guys are hitting on them I’m always saying, “You better not rape her, you better not take advantage of her.”
III.
I had a lot of sympathy for this girl when I first became aware of the issue. It must be a difficult, tumultuous experience to have one's sexual choices questioned by tens of thousands of people in one's local community, in addition to millions of consumers of national media.

Still, her dishonesty in dealing with this issue belies her own words. She is not as strong as she would like us to believe. If she were, there would be no need for Aurora, her alter-ego. But, in many ways, this represents the inherent contradictions of the Eat Pray Love philosophy that has been sold to women en masse, leaving them confused about their inability to draw links between spirituality, self-esteem, and sexual identity.

Like Lauren the activist, kind, sweet girl, Eat Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert compartmentalized her existence, shirked responsibility for her bad choices, got herself off the hook using cheap emotional obfuscation, and came out the other end of the psychological meat grinder by simply declaring that she was okay - whether or not she actually was.

See, morality and philosophy aren't about being self-righteous, they're about being happy. If there is one thing I would like to convey to the modern-day "Slate.com feminist" crowd it's that making stuff up as you go along may help you escape the scrutiny that other people apply to your decisions, but it will not help you get rid of the monkeys on your back. We need less pop philosophy that sells young women a cheap "anything goes" false spirituality, and more concrete moral structure. It's only the latter that will help them come to terms with the complex twists in life. Perhaps if Lauren had had access to a cogent moral philosophy she might have made different decisions, ones that she would not have to obfuscate with non sequiturs. Or, perhaps she would have made the same decisions, but would possess more self-esteem to stand up for herself frankly and confidently. Either way, she'd be a happier person.