Calgary Herald (second review)

Calgary Herald

Of lust and power

Catherine Ford

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

If there's lust in politics, then assuredly there is politics in lust. John Ince believes so, and the self-styled Vancouver sex expert (and lawyer) wrote The Politics of Lust to prove his point.

He could not have predicted the election of confessed groper Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor of California would give his self-important tome such an air of reality. Ince may have watched the public become fascinated with lust, but he couldn't predict his own timing. Maclean's cover story just a couple of weeks ago centred on the popularity of Internet encounters just for sex.

Ince links political hierarchy and sexual attitudes. Between the emergence of the dour Reform party and the demise of humour in the public sphere, we haven't had a politician publicly grope anyone (or be snitched upon) in years. Maybe not since former prime minister John Turner patted Iona Campagnolo's butt during a 1984 federal campaign rally and got away with it.

It would be pleasant to report from the feminist front lines the woman who was then president of the federal Liberal party and is now the lieutenant-governor of British Columbia was the absolutely last woman ever publicly seized by an opportunist politician who emerges from the encounter unscathed. But, of course, she is and was not. Like so many women embarrassed in public by being groped, she shut up about it.

It happens to a lot of us, in public and without apology. A drunken black-tie clad stranger did it to me at the Winston Churchill dinner the first year women were admitted, by shoving his hand down the front of my dress. Ranks were immediately closed in the male fraternity and not a single man had the courage to identify him, let alone call him to account for his actions. And surely there isn't a single female journalist who hasn't, at some point in her career, been importuned by the high and mighty. Their male colleagues, up until recently, were complicit in covering up the sexual peccadilloes of politicians. Sometimes, it's a very good thing for women to age visibly. It at least keeps their hands off your body.

From Turner to Gary Hart to Bill Clinton to California's governor-elect, politics -- fame and notoriety -- gives men an air of privilege about women. In Schwarzenegger's case, he didn't need politics to pave the way for him. (Also, I suspect, neither did Clinton, whose list of sexual encounters rivals only John F. Kennedy's in quantity, if not quality.)

What most of these have in common is the inequality of the groper and the gropee. Ince has proposed a relationship between top-down politics and sexual anxieties; between the hierarchical structures in families, churches, corporations and cultures and abuse, inequality and exploitation.

At the least, The Politics of Lust will make conservatives apoplectic, confirm feminist policies that advocate non-linear, consensus-based management and make for interesting speculation about the sex lives of politicians.

Ince jibes conservative politicians, but I'd rather not contemplate Stockwell Day's attitudes about sex. Day would "fit the profile of a preference for top-down politics: a strong leader who believes in a jealous god; traditional roles for men and women; and aversions to social minorities such as ethnics, gays and the poor. Check out the sexual values of these people and you will find fairly pronounced negativity to a broad range of sexual expression," writes Ince.

"People drawn to more democratic/egalitarian structures reveal a much more relaxed attitude toward sex. . . . These folks . . . support gay marriage, sex education and to be more open to sexual experimentation."

All this makes for interesting speculation about public figures, but what's the broader point for ordinary life? Maybe it's as simple as recognizing consensual, non-hierarchical structures are healthier for women and children who are less likely to be regarded as property -- sexual or otherwise-- in such a climate. "The more sexually relaxed a society, the more democratic it will be," writes Ince.

Living in uptight, upright Alberta, his theories could explain both provincial politics and growing suspicions this province is only a democracy of the haves -- and the male ones at that.

cford@theherald.canwest.com                 © Copyright  2003 Calgary Herald