Saints and Sinners

In Nancy Fischer’s article, “Purity and pollution,” she discusses the moral discourses surrounding sex. What has been considered immoral has not been constant over time, but has changed based on the society in which people have been living. Sex acts themselves do not have any natural connotations, but society and culture place specific meanings on them. Furthermore, sexually immoral behavior is not consistent across the globe, but instead varies based on the culture. What is acceptable in one culture may be extremely taboo in another. Fischer points out that now, rather than specific acts being taboo, it is now the individuals who participate in the acts that are put under scrutiny. The only people, who are able to escape being called sexually immoral, are straight, heterosexual couples. This puts many identities at risk for being considered immoral. Individuals who participate in certain acts are seen as different, or abnormal.

Sexual morality involves the control of other individuals’ sex lives. It involves stating what is and what is not appropriate for individuals to engage in. She notes that gossip and name-calling are often used as tools to show people that they are not abiding by societal norms. Fischer notes that when people chastise others based on their sexual activity, they are also promoting their own morality. They are portraying themselves as better than those who are “sexually immoral.” People in American culture have been conditioned to believe in the duality of many subjects: right and wrong, black and white, male and female. As a result, individuals tend to fall to one side or the other, when in actuality there is a wide array of options they could choose from.

Groups often create moral boundaries in order to exclude individuals who are morally corrupt. Fischer states, “Who labels whom as morally corrupt reflects power relations – the relationships between dominant and subordinate cultures” (42). The labeling of specific groups as sexually immoral causes them to be put down in other ways as well. Groups use sexual immorality to justify their treatment of minority groups. Fischer points out that not only are minority groups labeled different but so are genders. When a woman has sex with a lot of men she is seen as a slut, but when a man has sex with numerous women, he is seen as a player. Labels are used to demonstrate power. Sexual innocence is not available to all members of a society. There will always been individuals who are seen as morally corrupt. White, upper class women were once seen as being innocent, yet that eventually changed. Children soon came to be seen as the ones who were sexually innocent, unaware of desire. This led to withholding knowledge regarding to sex from children, in order to protect their innocence.

Fischer’s article only briefly covers the consequences of labeling some individuals as morally corrupt. It ignores the implications that moral superiority can have on individuals who do not fit the norm. When individuals do not fit into societal norms, they face stigma and scrutiny from others. The down-low culture presented in Justin Luc Hoy’s article demonstrates how individuals will try to avoid stigma based on their sexuality. These individuals are still identifying themselves as straight, in order to continue to have the benefits of being a straight male. LaMarre’s article, “Sexual narratives of straight women” shows that in order to escape scrutiny, women will label themselves as heterosexual. Since heterosexual is seen as the natural thing to many people, they will compromise their identity to be labeled as something that is socially acceptable.

The documentary, Let’s Talk About Sex, shows how many parents in the United States want to ignore that their children know about and engage in sex. They do not want their children to be corrupt due to sex education becoming a part of the typical school experience. Yet, the issue is that children are already exposed to sex on a daily basis. It would be better to educate them, rather than preserve their so-called “innocence.”

The prevalence of slut shaming in society today is a good representation of individuals trying to spread their own morality. By placing certain women down based on the acts that they choose to participate in, individuals are saying that they are superior to them. Women are almost always the victims of slut shaming, because as we have seen, women are expected to not have nearly as much sex as men. In this scene from the film, Daydream Nation, it shows that women are most often slut shamed by other women. Rather than banding together to go against the pressures from society, women are attacking each other based on their sexual activity. Other films, such as Easy A, demonstrate the ease with which women are labeled as being sexually promiscuous, even when they may not actually be. Whether or not individuals are engaging in sex with multiple partners should not affect how they are viewed by others. It is their decision to make.

In what other ways do people project their views of morality on other individuals? Is there a way for an individual to fall out of the dichotomy of being good or bad, a saint or a sinner? Is there any middle ground?

One thought on “Saints and Sinners

  1. I think this piece is really well written and I agree with all of your ideas- well done. But as far as the question you propose at the end goes… I do not think there is a way for an individual to fall out of the dichotomy or being good or bad. There is always a right answer and a wrong answer- and usually there is little room for anything in between. Th sonly difference in this case, I guess, is that once someone is labeled “good” or “bad,” they can change is by redeeming it or ruining it, but it will always be one or the other.


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