Gender used to tell us about language; now, it describes behavioral roles. The word sex was unambiguous, referring to the natural biological differences. But the genderfication of sex expands to encompass the experiences of the transgendered, lesbian and male homosexuals.
Whereas sex refers to two, gender creates a crowd -- emotional attachment becomes more about attitude than intimate connection. While most adults can handle the changes, however reluctantly, the ambiguity that language expresses affects our children in a different way, confusing their psychological perceptions and judgments in new ways. Sex that was once vulnerably personal has been coolly objectified in gender.
Relationships between the sexes have never been easy -- a mix of biological determinants, cultural expectations and personal spontaneity. Norms, or conventions, were meant to keep us in line. They were often abusive, favoring the male patriarch with power through property and aggressive aggrandizement, both physically and materially. But the sexual revolution changed all that. Once the pill arrived, women were liberated from fear of pregnancy, and were soon on their own to control their relationships with men.
But few of us expected that liberation would reach down to our children before they reached maturity. But now it does. Titillation teased out in the flirtation of getting to know another person has been trivialized and reduced to the animal sensation of "doing it," even among post-pubescents. You can see this expressed by teenagers who have discovered the "hookup," which sounds as mechanical as it is.
The "hookup" was originally defined on elite campuses where the workload was heavy and a sexual relationship was thought to be too time-consuming. The "hookup" was quick, so that each participant was free to get on with other, more important things.
But the hookup has filtered down to high school as an accepted way to behave. Here's a sample example, as explained in the Valentine's Day issue of a school newspaper at an expensive private high school in the nation's capital. The author of the piece offers typical interviews and observations on the state of romance among young urban sophisticated teenagers:
"High school students already have so much going on with school, homework and extracurriculars that it is hard to find time to really commit in a relationship," says an earnest young woman in defense of the latest social norm. "Hookups are the perfect remedy."
Typically, two people who have hooked up the night before, but who see each other in school the next day, "pretend it never happened." Hookups provide fun without burdens, the latest variation of "no strings attached," which was once the province of the rogue and the roue whom mothers warned their daughters about.
The teenage years, acknowledged by generations of acne-threatened girls and boys as a stage for "identity crises," have been replaced with pseudo sophistication, abetted by the popular culture and social media that glamorizes parties, alcohol, one-night stands and "friends with benefits."
No doubt this generation, like those before it, will confront life with a mix of experiences of tender agonies and heady excitement and pass through to maturity without too many psychological bruises. After all, growing up is a tough testing ground, an obstacle course with high hurdles to be surmounted. No one would wish back the bad old days of repression and double standards rigidly imposed by cultural institutions.
But what's strikingly absent in accounts of the new "gender" attitudes of adolescents is an authentic appreciation of sensuality and mystery that propels the male and female to seek intimacy and understanding. Without rules for sexual behavior, an uninspired hedonism dulls the senses, removing the wonder and titillation of mutual attraction.
The sexual revolution that pulled aside the cloak of discretion over the sexual experience has erased some of the rewarding, secret, subtle, psychological discoveries for young people. Sex may be a desire as natural as the need for food, but hookups reduce sexual experience to McSex, the moral equivalent of fast food.
Every revolution pushes the pendulum, and we never see where the center belongs until the pendulum has swung too far. The sexual revolution, which now deprives the next generation of the emotional tools required for growing up with a sensitivity to others as well as for self, has swung too far. Where and when it stops and begins the return arc, none can tell. But return it must. Civilization, and the nouns, are counting on it.