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WTF Wednesday: A modest proposal for sexual liberation by Barbara Amiel

Catherine McIntyre

Barbara Amiel would have aced my Grade 10 English class. One of our first assignments was to come up with a modest proposal—a satirical essay suggesting a ridiculous way to deal with a real issue, like gay rights, poverty or disease.

In a Maclean’s column this week, Amiel proposed how to create an “anything goes sexual society”. Sounds fun, right? Like the sexual liberation. Except this time sexual harassment, rape and child pornography are fair game.

First, she makes the Steubenville rape case out to look like a rite of passage—a coming of age moment for young men and women throughout the ages:

“The Steubenville boys behaved like many drunken 16-year-old males before them when faced with a 16-year-old female drunk as a skunk herself.”

Like Amiel says, this kind of stuff happened all the time during her college years (the early ’60s) at the University of Toronto. It’s normal. So you can imagine Amiel is pissed when the boys actually have to do time for the rape:

“In a normal society, the girl’s mother would have locked her up for a week and all boys present would have been suspended from school and their beloved football team.”

I mean, sure. That’s what my mom did when I broke curfew. So like, getting raped is totally the same thing.

Wait, I don’t think she’s kidding.

More than Amiel’s off-side proposals, I can’t stand her casual tone about rape—talking about the victim “ending up sans clothes”, and teenage boys as “often horrid beings” as if they’re programmed rapists. Downplaying the issue with this boys-will-be-boys, girls-will-be-hoes attitude is what fuels “rape culture”. It’s defeatist and offensive to everyone.

And Amiel’s laissez-fair views on child porn are just as bad. Never mind that that Tom Flanagan was fired for calling child porn a victimless crime, Amiel agrees, and then some. She thinks we need to keep quiet about child pornography and let people watch it if they want. If we start talking about child porn, we might get curious about it then everyone will be sexually exploiting children. Besides, “You cannot end a disease by arresting the infected.”

Wait, what? Yes you can. As Heather Harper from Mississauga wrote in response to Amiel’s column, “It’s called “quarantine” and it has the benefits of allowing the ill to be treated and preventing the infection from spreading.”

To take Tom Flanagan’s quote totally out of context: “It is a real issue of personal liberty, to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person.”

That’s just it.  We shouldn’t punish people if they’re not causing anyone harm. But rape, sexual harassment and child porn all cause harm. They’re non-consensual, they trample on people’s rights and are traumatic for the victims—and yes, there are always victims. I feel silly even writing that. Does it really have to be explained? Maybe Amiel would have done well in my English class, but she would have flunked logic and reasoning.

“We have created an anything-goes sexual society: premarital relationships, same-sex and transgendered ones, teen contraception, abortions on government health plans without parental consent, a popular culture celebrating sado-masochism in books that have sold more than 60 million copies. No problem for me.”

Really? No problem? Because I sense otherwise.

“But to compensate, we’ve hung our opprobrium on a few minor vices.”

So to be clear—we need something, anything, in the “sexual landscape” to be outraged about? And since we’re cool with homosexuality and the birth control pill, we direct that contempt at other “minor vices” like people being raped, harassed and exploited?

I can see my English teacher, Ms. Curran, flushed with deep-belly laughter and slapping her knee. A+, Amiel. You really grasped the art of satire. Hell, I almost thought you were serious.

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