St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi Gras, Spring Break. What do these springtime festivities have in common? Alcohol and ensuing wantonness. There are other events that involve excessive drinking as well (New Year’s Eve, sporting championships, four years of college, etc.) but without as much (ahem) carousing. Perhaps it is due to the time of year, but the trinity of St./Mardi/Break also seems to entail disrobing. Of course the wearing (or not wearing as the case may be) of the green can occur in rather chilly clime. But a green beer/whiskey induced snogging marathon knows no geographical boundaries (and can be accomplished while wearing a jaunty plastic green derby.)
There is nothing new about springtime debauchery, or drinking and impromptu romantic entanglements. MTV didn’t create the bacchanalian beaches, they just filmed it. (Cameras may alter people’s behavior, but when people are that far gone, it’s probably just incremental changes.) Phone cameras, social media, and youtube didn’t create opportunities for regret. Ruining a reputation has always been as easy as pie. People love to talk about other people; it’s simply what we do. We don’t need technology or tabloids to do so, we just need a willing listener. It’s neither bad nor good, it just is what it is.
What is bad and not good, is that it is only women whose reputations we are discussing. Since the dawn of time (or at least since the first caveman slurred; “take off those pelts baby” and flung a string of purple stones at her – which probably really hurt) it has been women whose bodies have been the entertainment and who have been punished for their cooperation. Even when a woman has kept her bikini top on and engaged in the same overindulgence of spirits as her male companions, it is her reputation that is at stake. Almost any (absurd) behavior a drunken male engages in is followed (in the clear light of day) with slaps on the backs or guffaws of; “Dude, you were off the hook” (or some other vernacular which also makes no sense.) The male’s behavior is seen as “normal” and a way of blowing off steam. His random romantic interludes (if there were any) are heralded. While in the girl’s hotel room next door…The kinder mascara smudged friends are unconvincingly cooing; “everyone does it. don’t worry about it. in a couple of weeks no one will even remember.”
One could argue that branding a woman was an effective deterrent to behavior that in fact could have had dire consequences. Effective birth control is a relatively new invention. Women died in childbirth on a somewhat regular basis. A girl/woman could fall pregnant and have absolutely no means of supporting herself or her child. She would no longer have access to the only acceptable profession; matrimony. Her matrimonial chances might be diminished if there was even a hint of behavior that could render her unsuitable. Whether she did anything or not, she could be ruined just the same.
Women now support themselves and (hopefully) have access to reliable birth control. What possible reason, anthropologically speaking, do we still have for branding women who drink in excess and physically exploit themselves and/or others? While our culture has ratcheted up the sexualization of girls and women (to extremes never before experienced) we have remained stalled in our judgments. Fashion, celebrities, video, film, television, and music have not just progressively disrobed women but have objectified them to cartoon proportions. Through modern science (and photoshop) women now look more like Betty Boop and Jessica Rabbit. When women are depicted engaging in acts of romance, they are almost always done so from the perspective of what pleases a man. Girls and women in videos (and real life) dance to simulate an act that can only pleasure their gentleman dance partner. The objectification of women is, shall we say, off the hook. Yet, we cling to our scarlet A ways. Could it be that at our core, we are not comfortable with our cultural objectification of women? Are our judgments a way of saying; “No, go back, we’ve led you astray?” The alternate explanation; that we are in a backlash to the second wave of feminism that simply knows no bounds, is more likely, but far more disturbing.