‘Sex and God at Yale’ -- Reviewing the Reviewers

by David French

My friend (and frequent NRO contributor) Nathan Harden’s new book, Sex and God at Yale, has stirred up the usual suspects who are ever-alert to any threat to sexual-revolution mores and the resulting “empowerment” of women. Nathan’s book vividly describes a great institution gone awry — overcome with excruciating and stifling leftist political correctness even while opening classrooms to porn vendors. (Lest anyone think that Yale is merely opening the “marketplace of ideas,” imagine for a moment if Remington or Colt tried to access campus to sell shotguns or rifles.)

Hanna Rosin in the New York Times and Nora Caplan-Bricker in the The New Republic take exception to Nathan’s critique. To Rosin, she who champions the hook-up culture because, well, some who hook up in grad school tend to succeed in business without buzzkills like “husbands” or “children,” Nathan’s description of the sexual depravity on display at Yale is mere “fodder for satire,” and his views are “patriarchal.” In TNR, Caplan-Bricker attacks with greater gusto:

The most infuriating thing about the book is its tone. Harden is the one who doesn’t respect women—or most men, for that matter, when it comes to sex. He is convinced that women who have casual sex are always looking for a relationship, and that every red-blooded American man (with the exception of Harden, who was married when he got to Yale) is just looking to hook up. And, of course, men are incapable of respecting women they aren’t dating, so this is a recipe for disaster.

In a chapter about a Sex Week “Fetish Fashion Show”—students, male and female, modeling lingerie designed by their peers to raise money for HIV/AIDS—Harden laments, “all those intelligent, amazing young women on parade before a crowd of rowdy oglers. It felt like something valuable had been thrown around with no thought or care.” Never mind that these women (and men) are the ones choosing to throw themselves around, perhaps because they think they can withstand a little ogling. According to Harden, these girls are in their underwear because they want to be in committed relationships, and their male peers are biologically unable to see them as anything but meat.

Lost in both Rosin’s and Caplan-Bricker’s critique is any virtue higher than empowerment, any morality deeper than consent, and any goal greater than experience. Sex is that thing you do because you want to. Families and relationships are those things that get in the way of careers. And the proof their cultural vision works is the fact that casual sex isn’t keeping wealthy, privileged, and intelligent women from getting good jobs.  

One has to be willfully blind to believe that men and women approach sex on the same terms. Sure, there are some women who sleep around with gusto and some men who just want to settle down, but to believe that there aren’t profound differences in the way men and women experience the world is to live in a fairy land. If Ms. Rosin and Ms. Caplan-Bricker want to see the true fruits of the sexual revolution, I suggest that they get out just a bit more — out of the world of wealth and privilege (which can absorb a multitude of sins) and into the working-class world of skyrocketing illegitimacy, generational fatherlessness, and deepening poverty.  

Nathan understands that sex has an impact on the human soul, and one of our more significant cultural institutions is blazing a trail of decadence that only the privileged can survive (at least for a time). Ask a woman working two jobs to provide for three kids by two different deadbeat dads if the hook-up culture has empowered her. But I suppose that’s immaterial to the elite feminist. After all, if Yale’s own women’s groups are just fine with Sex Week, well then it has to be just fine for women. They do know what’s best.

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