The problem with puritanical morality

By Grace Hamilton, Staff Writer

You are not allowed to have sex.

I mean, you are. But not too much. And not if you’re conventionally attractive. And not if it can later be used against you. And not if you’re a woman.

It may sound ridiculous, but those are the standards we have set.

Despite the movement heralding sex positivity, this positivity only applies to certain people. You still have to be considered “pure,” to be morally upright, to be sex positive – but not have that much sex – and have sex the right way.

We could talk about power dynamics, about age differences and manipulation. But no one wants to.

We want to point fingers. We want to feel superior to conventionally attractive women, and we want to tear them down the first chance we get.

These expectations are impossible. You cannot win in this system because it does not want you to. We claim sex positivity, we clamor that women should be in control of their own bodies and their own lives. But those puritanical standards still exist. If we could, we’d make these women wear scarlet letters on their chests, so the whole world could see their shame and revel in it.

So despite how far we’ve come – it’s really, truly, not far enough. The most recent is Sumner Stroh, a 23-year-old Instagram model who took to TikTok to reveal her year-long affair with Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. She was even younger when she had an affair with Levine, who is 43. And despite this, she has been shamed and persecuted online. Levine, on the other hand, has suffered the creation of multiple memes about the way he DMs.

This is how we define these women. It’s how we remember them. It defines the stories we tell about them, over and over and over again.

It’s a fetishism. A voyeurism. We want no judgment for our own sexual “misdeeds,” but we’ll gladly watch these women vilified for theirs on the big screen.

Look at Blonde. Look at Pam & Tommy. Andrew Dominik, the director of Blonde, described one of Marilyn Monroe’s most famous movies, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as a film about “well-dressed whores.” He overlooks her accomplishments: forming her own production company, lending support to Ella Fitzgerald when nightclubs wouldn’t book her, being nominated for and winning numerous awards for her acting. Dominik doesn’t care.

His film is a gratuitous depiction of rape and abuse at the expense of a dead woman who no one can seem to leave alone. Just another way to watch a beautiful woman suffer for the sin of her impurity.

Pam Anderson didn’t even give her approval for Pam & Tommy, which depicts a sex crime committed against her.

We persecuted Stroh online after she revealed her affair with Adam Levine.

Monica Lewinsky suffered blame and ridicule after her affair with Bill Clinton, even though he was the president of the United States and she was only a 24-year-old  intern.

What’s not surprising, but very disappointing, are the women clamoring to watch them all suffer – to fail and to be punished for what they’ve done. For daring to be conventionally attractive and using that to their advantage. For being sexual people, even though that sexuality has most often been used against them, to abuse them and humiliate them. For being hyper-femme in a society that views femininity as a sign of weakness and inferiority.

Our Puritan roots are still painfully present in the way we discuss these women, the way we portray them.

Having a set of standards for behavior and morality is fine. We have to operate by some set of rules in order to live with each other, and with ourselves, but the rules we have now are not helping with that. They are based in a culture of shame and misogyny. And criticizing women for playing a part in extramarital affairs is not wrong, but acknowledging the power dynamics and manipulation on the part of the men is also important and extremely relevant.

You are not allowed to fail. You are not allowed to be imperfect and make mistakes, and God forbid, look good while doing it.

The rest of us will laugh and jeer, a pack of wolves ready to tear you apart the moment you slip up. Is it jealousy? Is it morality? Religion?

Or really, is it just plain misogyny — internalized or not?

Since when was puritanical morality our defining set of standards for behavior — as well as punishment for that behavior?

The sex positive movement seems to only apply to those we aren’t jealous of, those we don’t hate or look down on.

We feel inferior, and the first chance we have to feel superior, we take it.

We already know the patriarchal society we live in is deeply flawed and should be dismantled. Until then, examination of our own flaws and misogynist tendencies is a good place to start.

These women, and the women like them, are not perfect. Puritans would be horrified by them, shun them, condemn them to hell maybe burn them at the stake.

It’s embarrassing that we hunger to do the same.