Journal of the History of Sexuality 10.3&4 (2001) 582-584
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New Millennial Sexstyles
New Millennial Sexstyles. By Carol Siegel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000. Pp. 189. $39.95 (cloth). $19.95 (paper).
With a provocative title and a cover that promises a discussion of everything from film's Chasing Amy to music's Limp Bizkit, this book appears to be a light read about American popular culture. It is instead a heavily theoretical work that argues for new approaches to the study of gender. Carol Siegel contends that the sexual revolution succeeded but in ways that are not recognized by current academic studies of gender and sexuality. Being masculine or feminine no longer constitutes the foundation of one's identity since failure to behave in ways that match one's biological sex is no longer universally regarded as a tragedy. Among the young, the lines between masculine and feminine have blurred, and gender identities have reversed in ways that are not recognizable to second-wave feminists or to social conservatives. Siegel's aim is to examine a number of cultural products to reveal how various feminisms have succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of sexuality and gender identity. She seeks to incorporate into feminism some of the intellectual and emotional pleasures that young adults now associate with sexual experience.
Siegel focuses on a few cultural artifacts and sets the stage for her arguments by beginning with courtship and marriage manuals such as Connell Cowan and Melvyn Kinder's Smart Women/Foolish Choices: Finding the Right Men and Avoiding the Wrong Ones (New York: New American Library, 1985) and Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's The Rules (New York: Warner Books, 1995). Books coming from the self-help movement characteristically agree that marriage is about thought and work much more than it is about passion; love is no longer relevant. To the writers of these best sellers, love is a dangerous and delusional state that must be avoided since it is not a human need and it interferes with the goal of economic stability. By teaching fear of the disruptive power of erotic feelings, the manual writers have induced a cultural phenomenon that Siegel terms "heterophobia." The [End Page 582] marital/sexual advice genre insists that marital happiness must be based on the renunciation of desires that conflict with monogamy but naturalizes this denunciation by claiming that there are two types of erotic love. Sexual desire belongs to the immature state, while monogamy helps people to realize their desire for closeness without sex. Frightening people away from sexual desire turns marriage into a business arrangement.
In one of the most interesting passages of her book, Siegel uses heterophobia to explain why conservatives now both mandate discussion of homosexuality and condemn it instead of simply treating heterosexuality as the only possible form of sexual expression. Siegel cites repeated public discussions of oral sex during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal as well as the efforts of the Oregon Citizens Alliance to force the public schools to recognize and teach students to avoid homosexuality, pedophilia, sadism, and masochism. She argues that conservatives now fear that large numbers of children will not naturally become heterosexuals and that indoctrination is necessary to prevent the formation of vast numbers of homosexuals. With both the self-help movement and conservatives positioning heterosexuality as something that must be compelled, the rise of heterophobic films is predictable. Siegel uses a film that has been charged with gay bashing to suggest that a new commentary on gender is forming. Basic Instinct did exceptionally well at the box office, and it is part of a new convention that insists that heterosexual love is dangerous. The film presents the war between the sexes in a wildly exaggerated fashion and deems deviant all desires that do not tend toward consumerized domesticity.
Few of Siegel's youthful informants believe the gender images transmitted by courtship manuals or films that project men as dominant figures. Instead of glorifying men as powerful, aggressive beings who seek only sex from submissive females, young people see domineering...