Nov 7, 2013

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A Feminists View of Moral Sexuality – English 1A – Essay 2

Assignment – 
A major theme in Tolstoy (and Lewis) is morality – where does it come from? How do we discern it? How does it affect our trajectory as individuals, families and societies? Write an essay in which you engage with the tension (if you think it’s there) in American society between morality and immorality. Is this a false dilemma? Are those terms obsolete (relics of a bygone era), or do they still hold potency in our societal consciences? Engage with one or two topics that can be examined from a moral/immoral framework – what moral & ethical worldviews disagree to create such a tension? Where do you stand on the issue, and why?

Final Score: 185/200

Final Comments: “This is very well done, Brie!”

Draft Comments: “Brie – excellent writing. You lose a bit of momentum w/ the main topic on the last page & I’m left wondering if there is a boundary of morality that would be ‘too far’ w/ you.”


Gabriella Wendt

Professor A.

English 1A

07 November 2013

A Feminists View of Moral Sexuality

Morality is often defined as a set of beliefs about what is “right” and “wrong” behavior. Sexuality has always been linked to the idea of morality. Various branches of the sexuality tree, whether it’s modesty or gender preference, often cause great cultural divides in individuals and can become the centerpiece of even larger debates of ideals.

Tolstoy’s take on morality and sexuality in “The Kreutzer Sonata” is particularly accusative and damaging to the idea that human beings are evolved creatures. Human beings, regardless of a binary gender, have evolved beyond animals and have the ability and option to control their base desires and instincts. The character of Pozdnyshev argues for sexual abstinence because he is unable to control his own desires and impulses, and makes a broad judgment on human nature based on his own shortcomings; I see this reflected in real life, especially among religious groups where there is the desire to impose their morality on others (particularly women) because it is something they find distasteful or difficult to deal with. Jacob Baker, a member of the Latter Day Saints, writes about a particular experience while on mission saying:

It really bothered me seeing so many women in various states of undress. It was hard to focus and I felt weak and powerless around them. How were we to be strong and stay faithful? I had prayed and fasted about it constantly, and felt little strength in return. And I began to despise many of the women I encountered for “making” me feel that way (I knew plenty of other missionaries who felt the same in the face of these hellish sirens).

After voicing his concern, Jacob is enlightened by a fellow missionary who wasn’t having the same problems:

He loved girls (…) and had always wanted to be with them regularly. But he didn’t obsess over girls or think of them as sexual objects designed for his own titillation, to constantly flee from until you hopefully found the safe haven of marriage at some point in the future. He didn’t think girls could directly and irrevocably cause inappropriate thoughts, but that such thoughts were just part of becoming an adult human being, and needed to be acknowledged and managed accordingly. He said he felt free. And that he was sorry for me that I apparently didn’t.  (

Now, this is not to say that we should control our desires to the point of complete abstinence from all pleasures as Tolstoy would like, but that part of our evolution has been the ability to determine what is reasonable and what is in excess. On his Christian blog post “Seeing a woman: A conversation between a father and a son” Nate Pyle states: “It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being”. ( It is not uncommon to try to heap the blame or the responsibility on one party, a woman should take care with how she dresses with the underlying goal of not being sexually assaulted (and if she was wearing a short skirt she was “asking for it”) or the blame is only with the man’s inability to control his desires.

Such is the problem with today’s rape culture:

(…) a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. (…) In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change. (Buchwald)

The responsibility for the rape (or at least the accusation that the rape could have been avoided) is commonly place upon the woman, that the woman shouldn’t be walking alone in a bad area of town, or that they shouldn’t be wearing such provocative clothing. There is also an unfortunate amount of sympathy still placed with rapists when caught and there are repercussions. In the reporting of the 2012 Steubenville High School rape case, many news outlets were seen reporting on how unfortunate it was that the rapist’s futures were now ruined. Most famously, CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow stated “These two young men who had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — literally watched as they believed their life fell apart,[once the verdict was made]” ( Her misguided quote was fortunately met with public criticism which shows that we are continuing to move forward.

Human morality is allowed to evolve with us. Morality doesn’t need to be (and isn’t) a constant. The moral identity of the 18th century is certainly going to have a different outlook from our modern time. This doesn’t mean that we are progressively getting more immoral, or even more pious, but that like anything related to humanity it is capable of evolution, of change, of updating and advancement.

It is also certain that morality is not obsolete; morality is necessary for our world’s community to not collapse into chaos and anarchy. It is an unfortunate common belief that religion is necessary for morality and that you can’t know what is right or wrong (moral or immoral) without having a handed down set of rules. I believe that humans have an innate understanding that murder, stealing, and rape are “bad”; we don’t need a displaced higher power to tell us that they are. Humanity would not have survived this long or have been able to evolve without the natural instinct to be helpful and caring of others. Our nature is not only good though because we have free will, because the human identity is deep and complex, and because it is human nature to find ways to justify the things that we are naturally repulsed by.

Regardless of the differences that exist in cultural moralities, it is my belief that individuals are responsible for their own actions and should have that responsibility put upon them in the face of misconduct. Imposing your personal moralities on others in this regard becomes difficult. Morality itself, though the idea of it is objectively universal, is individually subjective.

Beyond law and cultural expectations, the golden rule is still the best way to judge the moral from the immoral. “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.” This golden rule has roots and history in a plethora of cultures and is widely accepted. This doesn’t strictly translate into “I won’t try to rape you if you don’t try to rape me” but is more generally thought of in terms of doing no harm and being kind or at least respectful. This golden rule also doesn’t mean imposing your personal beliefs or set of moral codes on others which is a frequent misinterpretation. “What is good for the goose isn’t necessarily good for the gander.” Morality isn’t a one size fits all as we do see stark differences across the globe.

One of the things I struggle with as a feminist is that what I truly care about is people. I care about men and women and everyone else on the spectrum. It is an unfortunate truth that we create so many divides when we are all truly the same. Kameron Hurley, when discussing female roles in literature and history, makes the point that “(…) when we talk about “people” we don’t really mean “men and women.” We mean “people and female people.”  ( It’s a long standing tradition, that we are only just now breaking free of, to treat women as property, or secondary, to men. However, those underlying instincts are still prevalent especially around the concept of sexuality as I have discussed throughout this essay. This kind of thinking is dangerous though; when we break the human race up into categories it becomes easier to think of it in terms of “us” and “them”. We separate ourselves, suppress our ability to empathize and that distance creates the ability to disassociate our moralities because it’s not doing harm to another one of us, it’s doing harm to “them”.

Equality among individuals involves understanding that everyone lives equally full and unique lives. Imposing your morality on others is fruitless and this is where law and social contracts become important. Morality in a society quickly becomes majority rule and is governed by cultural and societal preferences. Spoken of often is the stark contrast between the ideals of modesty in the western and middle-eastern worlds; where you can imagine in one a woman covers anything but their eyes, and in the other they bare everything but their eyes.

What I dream of is a world where we have evolved to true unity. Where we are still unique and have beautiful cultural differences, but where we are able to recognize that we are all just humans; we are no longer “us” and “them” but just “us”. I want our concerns to not be whether someone dresses “immodestly” or if their sexual preference or gender identity lines up with what you consider normal, but whether we’re taking care of one another and our world.

Sexuality, specifically the sexuality of women, is not a moral corruption and shouldn’t be villainized. The purpose of the modernization and growth around sexual morality is not to bring humanity to a state of hedonism but to normalize and remove shame from our natural state. I do not know what this would look like, because it is so far from what our any of our world views have been, but by removing the separation and categorization of “Men” and “Women” and return to a state of just “people”, the stigma of modesty and immoral sexual behavior can be removed and a new status quo based on universal respect and understanding can be found.

Works Cited

Baker, Jacob. “Men, Sex, And Modesty.” By Common Consent a Mormon Blog. N.p., 18 June 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <>.

Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth. Transforming A Rape Culture. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 1995. Print.

Gert, Bernerd. “The Definition of Morality.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 17 Apr. 2002. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <>.

Hurley, Kameron. ““‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative”.” N.p., 20 May 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2012. <>.

Pyle, Nate. “Seeing a Woman: A Conversation between a Father and Son.” N.p., 14 Aug. 2013. Web. 18 Oct. 2013. <>.

Shapiro, Rebecca. “Poppy Harlow, CNN Reporter, ‘Outraged’ Over Steubenville Rape Coverage Criticism: Report.” The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <>.

Tolstoy, Leo. “The Kreutzer Sonata.” The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. 64-140. Print.

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