On Wednesday, September 13, journalist Bari Weiss’s fairly new publication The Free Press, and the non-profit organization Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) put on The Free Press’s first event (of a planned national series) on the stage of the Ace Hotel Theatre in downtown Los Angeles to debate the question: Has the Sexual Revolution Failed?
Louise Perry, the author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, Anna Khachiyan, self-identifying contrarian and co-host of cultural commentating podcast Red Scare, Sarah Haider, writer and co-founder of the Ex-Muslims of North America, and Grimes, an acclaimed musical spearheader and otherwise undefinable cultural figure sat on stage, two Fiji water bottles each, to engage in what turned out to be more of a discussion than a debate, moderated by Weiss.
I do not know the answer to this question, and frankly, none of the women paneling did either. The only one who seemed to have a strong opinion about the matter was Louise Perry, and even she had a moment of agreement with her opposing side. It seems an impossible topic to tackle, probably because it’s one that is informed by personal experience and ideology, one that is (like many things) completely warped and lost in translation through the mechanics of the Internet.
The Internet, more specifically social platforms like TikTok, X, Instagram, etc, play a monopolizing role in the lives of Americans, so much to the point that certain political, cultural, social, and even interpersonal topics exist in two different realities: one of the digital space, and one in the physical space, or, the “real world.” It is left to the individual to choose (consciously or not) which space in which they decide to understand their reality. Do your opinions on marriage, porn, casual sex, sex work, sugaring, and hypergamous relationships translate to the communities in your physical space, or do they only make sense in your online bubble, contextually filled out by years of memes and viral opinions and God-forbidden hot takes?
I was drawn to this event because I only knew the panelists through their reputations online. I wanted to see what they would say in real life, without the support cushion of the following they already had. No one said anything too groundbreaking or revolutionary–nonetheless, The Free Press knows how to put on an entertaining evening.
Before the “fight” began I became acquainted with the people on either side of my assigned seat. To my left, a freelance culture writer who seemed to be in his early to mid-thirties. He was talking with another man who looked the same age, dressed in dark-wash, slightly distressed skinny jeans with a neon orange muscle tank that read “Gabagool” in green letters in the same font as the Gatorade logo. I saw him earlier in the lobby while I was in line for a $25 glass of orange wine; a group of women behind me joked that he looked like he just got off the bus from Florida. I later found out that he was another culture writer, representing a well-known, well-respected publication that he said “didn’t really want to host coverage” of the debate. He had no answer for why, but I can assume it’s due to some of the panelist’s controversial digital presence.
To my right was an older couple in attendance through FIRE. They didn’t know the panelists but recognized the name Grimes when I told them she was the mother to several of Elon Musk’s children. After a few more questions about the participants, they asked me what the words “dirtbag left” meant, a term they learned when googling Red Scare. The culture writer to my left answered that it was a group of people who associate with leftists, but do not identify as “woke.”
This was a good explanation and the first time I had heard the term said aloud rather than reading it in a tweet or in a substack think piece.
Finally, the “Clash of the Female Titans” began. Perry and Khachiyan argued that yes, the sexual revolution has failed, with 56% of the audience agreeing with them via text-to-vote results displayed on a large screen hanging behind the stage. Haider and Grimes argued no, along with 44% of the audience at the beginning of the debate.
Each participant had a five-minute opening statement, starting with Perry. She argues that there are two key elements of the sexual revolution, the first being technological, or the invention of the birth control pill, and the second being the sexual and cultural wars that accompanied it. Throughout the evening she further comments that freedom is a great horse to ride on for as long as you’re actually headed somewhere, and that people crave structure, rules, and limitations, and she suggests we write new ones.
Haider argues that the sexual revolution is being “mischaracterized” and “scapegoated,” blamed for issues that should not be attributed to its existence. While yes, she says, there have been bad outcomes in the wake of the revolution, it’s offered women a reality in which sex is about pleasure, rather than reproduction. She continues that in comparison to the reality that women faced before the revolution, we have it much better off, reminding the crowd of a time when women were restricted from education and the workforce. She asks the audience: if women were facing restrictions from the institutions that grant access to personal and financial autonomy, what were they doing by marrying if not offering their bodies in exchange for material support?
After joking about having brain fog due to her state of being a woman, internet addiction, and that her arguments were written by men, Khachiyan remarks that the answer to the evening’s question lies in the fact that hundreds of people gathered together for an all-woman panel, that the panelists are the winners of the sexual revolution and that the sexual revolution is the winner of the culture war. “We’ve finally found a way to have it all and we’re still not happy,” she says. She continues that she stole her brand of feminism from Camille Paglia and that her “beef” with the sexual revolution is not its “incoherent” feelings towards sex but the way the “resulting chaos” has captured universities, media, etc. Attuned to the Red Scare brand, when she was not speaking, she was vaping.
Grimes disclaimed to the crowd that she’s terrible at public speaking and bad at reading off paper–the audience was patient and supportive. She mentions that four mothers (all of the panelists have young sons) were able to be debate that evening because of the normalization of women accommodating their families around their careers, an attribution made possible by the effects of the revolution, noting it as a “rare luxury” in the grand arc of history.
She then remarks that advancements in technology must be accompanied by social technology which she defines as religion, law, manners, memes, and government, and that culture does not happen to us, it is us, and if it’s hurting us, we can redesign it. She poses the idea that society needs to reevaluate its norms to prioritize mothers and children, something Perry recognized as a “true feminist project.”
The evening never came to a resolution, perhaps because there was none. After the discussion, the audience submitted another text-to-vote, which resulted in 49% agreeing that the sexual revolution failed, and 51% disagreeing.
Grimes ended the debate with her favorite quote from Buckminster Fuller, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
Photos Courtesy of The Free Press.