Maybe It Wasn’t Rape: Emerging Matriarchy and the Altering of Women’s Past Sexual Narratives

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So, with a very serious and straight face, I’m going to say that, yes, the times were indeed different—regardless of what goes on between men and young women (we are not talking girls in the sense of pre-pubescent children.) If one has not taken the time to study the 1970s, one cannot understand the heady mix of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that permeated our culture. 

It started with Erin Keane’s post on Salon.

The death of David Bowie seemed to bring out the worst in a whole lot of people when it came to his relationship with underage groupie Lori Maddox (a.k.a Lori Mattix.)  Keane notes how “a quiet pushback emerged online” to Maddox’s story.  Keane linked to a number of blog posts that furthered accusations that Bowie was a predator, a person who took advantage of a young girl who was incapable of making decisions for herself, among other statements that seemed both hollow and overwrought at the same time. Yet what stands out most of all among all the accounts, including Keane’s, is a blatant re-writing of another woman’s past sexual narrative from a time that Keane and others clearly do not understand.

The re-writing begins, tacitly enough, with the admonition that in the “sober light of 2016” it is “hard to read” Maddox’s reminiscences of losing her virginity to Bowie.  Keane says she believes Maddox felt special, yet doesn’t agree with Maddox’s evaluation of her experience and condescendingly adds:

“. . .most people grow out of the idea that sex with a rock star is a goal to pursue — but because when you’re young it’s easy to believe that experience is the one currency you’re allowed to hoard and never pay out.”

Not only is this a high-handed slap in the face to women who enjoy pursuing sex with famous men, but Keane also doesn’t think much of us who argue that the ’70s were a very different time:

“But they were not, really, no matter how many times we all collectively wish that to be true. If you can say with a straight face “men don’t have sex with young girls anymore” — well, good luck to you with that.”

So, with a very serious and straight face, I’m going to say that, yes, the times were indeed different—regardless of what goes on between men and young women (we are not talking girls in the sense of pre-pubescent children.) If one has not taken the time to study the 1970s, one cannot understand the heady mix of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that permeated our culture.  One cannot understand what it meant for young women, from 13-33, to be able to get birth control without a mother’s permission; to be able to choose abortion on demand, without a parent’s permission; and to have more to say over how a young woman might dispose of her virginity than anyone else in her life.  For those of us who were young women, perhaps the same age as Lori Maddox, to be able to consciously choose to lose one’s virginity in the time and place and with whomever she decided was our way of thumbing our noses at a patriarchy that would have us sit with pills between our knees until Princes Charming came along and magically made us Princesses.

We may have grown up with Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora, but none of us were having any of that patriarchal bullshit anymore.  No man was “Prince Charming”—well, maybe for the day, or night or moment or however many months we dated him.  If we dated him.

Did these deflowerings traumatize us, make us wish we hadn’t done it?  For some women it made them wish they hadn’t done it, and maybe caused them to prod their daughters into waiting.  For others, it made them very happy to get it over with.  It made them feel like adults, in charge of their own destinies.  Still others were pleasantly surprised that they actually did love the young men they chose, that sex could be a road to understanding grown-up, un-fairy tale-like love.  (That was my experience anyway.)

So, suck it, patriarchy.  We weren’t going to kowtow to your definition of whore, slut or your demands that to not be a virgin made us unworthy of marriage.

Such bullshit.

With this in mind, one might understand how this writer would completely blanch at the insistence of Keane and others who want us to claim that we were actually victims of the young men we chose—and even victims of the patriarchy!  They want to tell us that we were dupes.  And they insist the trysts were ones of criminal wrongdoing, the young men merely horrid, scheming pedophiles.

What a bunch of oppressively Matriarchal, slut-shaming nonsense.

Think about it.

Carol Queen, in her rebuttal post, cautions:

Labeling us as victims in retrospect is not a very conscious thing to do”

Queen continues in her essay by reminding us that young women of the times were sexual adventurers, and as such had to take a certain amount of responsibility for themselves.  She reminds us that the times were seen as one big party, besotted with sex, drugs, and rock and roll—and maybe this heady mix didn’t allow us the best decision-making milieu.

She further goes on to differentiate the experience of Bowie – Maddox from that of alleged serial predator Bill Cosby and other predators who use social media against young women:

“We need to talk about frat parties. We need to talk about where they got the idea of sending pictures of a passed-out girl around social media. They didn’t get that idea from David Bowie.”

Yet in the flurry of posts that followed both Keane and Queen’s posts, few seemed to have heard what Queen said, and amplified Keane and others’ abuse narratives.  Recounting the Bowie and Maddox tryst in any form becomes a “trigger” that should have come with advance warning. The simple mention of it responsible for some women reliving their personal traumas.

This reaction, however, negates Queen’s call to talk about the same things that might help and promote understanding of current day assaults and the uses of social media to document and shame those who have been assaulted. Demands that we consider Lori Maddox a victim also negates her claim that she wasn’t, and confuses the Bowie situation with current day situations.  None of us who chose to be young sexual adventurers are directly responsible for today’s crimes. This kind of revisionist moralizing about the past actively censors any current discussion around the differing mores of the 1970s by saying the ’70s weren’t different, it’s that the people who lived back then were deluded.  It ignores any separation of one’s personal experience, recounted for therapeutic reasons today, from those of people we admire and even consider god-like.  It assumes their past indiscretions have a long, long reach into our current personal suffering.  It allows anyone who disagrees with the past to re-write what is clearly and personally affirmed to be *not* a victim story into an elaborate victim tale to suit a personal, current day agenda.

To what end might this revisionism serve? Is it only to say “look how far we have come! We have the power to tell others that they were raped and abused because we, the Modern Matriarchs, believe this is the right and *lawful* response!”  It is believed unequivocally correct to change a history that has been affirmed by personal narrative because the current laws may be different, and because some people are in need of hearing a story told through their particular lens—a lens that may have absolutely nothing to do with the story they are in need of rewriting.

Re-writing history with no evidence to support any allegations of wrongdoing sets a dangerous precedent.  To do so is to create a falsehood that runs counter to the accurate, verified history.  History then becomes a subjective thing, able to be re-mixed by anyone with an agenda and a platform for disseminating falsehoods. Telling one generation that they are deluded  and that they never did thumb their nose at patriarchy is a mighty risk the current re-writers are taking, and may, over the course of history, cause their own histories to be mixed, mashed-up and re-written for another generation’s, another future Matriarchy’s consumption.  This Matriarch posturing ultimately forces women into a way of thinking that denigrates sexual experience and completely stifles any discussion that does not conform to the current mode. It casts all relationships that do not conform to that of which the Matriarchy approves as bad, and the women in need of proper re-education about their victimhood.

It rules the roost with an iron hand, ties a girl to her mother’s apron strings, and creates a totalitarian, intolerant, right/wrong binary world of thinking about sexual experience and sexual expression.

Is this the reality we women want – with discussions around our sexual decision-making abilities vs. the crimes against us chilled by those who find a discussion of someone else’s reality a potential trigger to their trauma?  Do we really want to demonize all young men as evil predators? And subjugate all young women their potential victims?  Or do women still desire the freedom to determine their own sexual expression and their own sexual experience timelines and narratives, free of backhanded refutations, slut-shaming recriminations, and victim-branding by overbearing Matriarchs who desire to call us traitors to feminism?

Think about it.

Tish Grier is a writer and longtime blogger living in Easthampton, MA.  Even at middle-age, Tish is still a girly girl who enjoys blogging about fashion and beauty.  She also writes essays about her formerly dysfunctional life and wants to let everyone know that things change.  You can read her at High Fashion Average Woman. Tish is also a contributor to Midcentury/Modern on Medium.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/CC License/David Sadler

  • gracedavis

    Great! You hit it out of the park, Tish! Co-opting elements of the past and molding it to satisfy current ideologies is straight up revisionist history. I would venture to say that most of the critique of the 70s groupies – who sought sexual empowerment and got it, with no shame, with no regrets – is originating from women younger than this 61 year old crone.

  • Ed Horch

    People under 40 don’t know life prior to the Reagan Era and its push of society toward the right, which continues to this day. They don’t know life without AIDS. For many, 9/11 is itself a childhood memory, and they’ve never flown without the TSA. They don’t know life prior to megachurches, Joel Osteen, the Left Behind books, and chastity balls.

    You absolutely cannot deconstruct the 70’s (or any decade before, really) through the lens of twenty-first-century culture without getting it horribly wrong. You have to take that era for what it was. It’s no different from acting as if the 50’s decade was all Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best, and not McCarthyism or Jim Crow. (Not that there aren’t modern day McCarthy apologists.)

  • kugolik

    I don’t understand the repeated use of “Matriarchy.” What are you referring to with that? What is “Emerging Matriarchy?”

    • tishgrier

      I used the term Emerging Matriarchy because I didn’t want to point fingers and say that a particular age demographic is responsible for a matriarchal mindset that I perceive as more vocal in feminist dialogue at this time. I gave it a lot of thought, esp. after the Steinem-Albright stuff, which I thought was the voice of an Old School Matriarchy with its dismissive attitude towards young women. Having attended a Seven Sisters college from ’98 to ’01,I saw how groups of women became “matriarchal.” It was interesting, and I didn’t find it all that accepting. In fact, for me, it was as repressive as an old-timey patriarchal Bible college. I find that matriarchies–whether Old School or Emerging, are repressive in their treatment of those of us that are the outliers who reject being controlled by their dogmatic beliefs. When feminism narrows to where adherents want to control dialogue through demeaning language or other forms of intimidation, and even ostracizing of others, it veers into repressive matriarchy.

      I hope that clarifies my position. if not please let me know.

    • tishgrier

      actually, the correct term rather than “matriarchy” should have been “feminism” as to point to those within feminism who are staunchly anti-porn and more associated with the stringent thinking of Catharine A. MacKinnon (who’s work I find repressive) but I felt to use feminism alone would cut too wide a swath.

  • hermanaresist

    fuck the matriarchy. White feminist matriarchy is just as damaging and dangerous as the white patriarchy. It’s not mine, my line, my narrative, my story-nothing.

    • tishgrier

      Then tell your story and publish it somewhere. BTW, your behavior is very similar to the kinds of trolling that is done by many young males when they disagree with any woman, regardless of age or sexual preference.

  • hermanaresist

    “One cannot understand what it meant for young women, from 13-33, to be able to get birth control without a mother’s permission” are you delusional? do you not know what is going on with reproductive rights across the US right now?

    • tishgrier

      Sweetie, you obviously have an axe to grind and you want to be offensive because you feel some need to do so. All I will say is that I probably know far more about what’s going on in reproductive rights–and how they have diminished–over the past 30 plus years than you know….

  • hermanaresist

    “History then becomes a subjective thing” And you obviously know nothing about how history is rewritten and rewritten over time.

    • tishgrier

      um, you’re completely missing my point. Re-writing history in order to deny first person account, and to further an ideological agenda, turns history into a subjective thing that has little to do with the original story. When one has an original, verifiable historical account, rewriting should be out of the question….but if you like engaging in demagoguery,…..

  • https://twitter.com/melissamcewen Melissa

    It’s hard for me to see this whole thing as just one moral relativist situation when I know so many women who came from that 70s “rock n roll” culture and did feel victimized and have talked about being raped. A lot of the Evangelical culture I grew up in particular was reactionary to that culture. And there were always so many examples trotted out of women who had been hurt by mainstream culture then.

    It’s not right to tell an individual woman she was a victim, but it is true that by moral standards that prioritize women’s rights, the culture back then was not particularly liberated and I’d even argue we’ll look back at now and say the same 20 years from now. That sexual “liberation” of then and now prioritized the pleasure of straight mainly white men over women.

    • tishgrier

      You make a very good point about the pleasure of mainly white men over women. and I definitely agree with you to some degree. There was a lot of magazines and porn of the day that talked about the “Lolita,” that was patently unfair to young women and completely mis-characterized us. As I feel a lot of porn still does today, across sexual orientations, too (“lesbian sex” that is more for the titillation of males than the reality.) And we may indeed see what goes on now and think “boy did we have a long way to go.” We certainly did at that time, and acknowledging that some men are predators was an important change. The important thing is that we do indeed change.

  • Audra Williams

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