By: Nechama Lowy | Opinions  | 

Exploring Dennis Prager’s Implications

On November 8, a post appeared in YU Marketplace with the headline: “SNOWFLAKES BEWARE: White male coming to campus!” A satirical post, no doubt, yet one that resonated enough to encourage me to attend Dennis Prager’s speech, hosted by YU’s Young America’s Foundation and the Yeshiva College Republicans. Prager, deemed an academic scholar by the YAF chairman, brought in a room full of Yeshiva University students, both male and female, in what was promised to be an eye-opening and intellectual night.

In order to familiarize myself with Prager’s beliefs, I spent hours watching a multitude of his videos and browsing his website to ensure I was somewhat prepared for his speech. Being aware of the high probability that I would disagree with most of his content, I sat anxiously awaiting his “reasonable” and “broad range of viewpoints” that would “expand my political horizons,” as stated in an op-ed published recently in The Commentator. However, no amount of background knowledge could have prepared me for his aggressive speech, which encouraged hatred towards what he called “The Left,” rather than intellectual educational discourse. Knowing the Yeshiva crowd that he was addressing, Prager ensured to fit words of Torah within his speech as often as possible. Among his many statements, Prager spoke about women’s lack of ability to have meaningless sex, the universal, inherent desire within women to be seen as a sex object by her husband, and the women’s “mitzvah” to have sex with their spouse, regardless of their  “mood.” He even went so far as to compare the women’s obligation to sexually please her partner to his fourth grade religious prayer crisis: Your mood does not matter, because it is a mitzvah. Obligation overrides emotion.

While preaching such an idea about their sexual obligation to a crowd of both men and women  is a problem within itself, as the Torah is a lot more complex and nuanced in regards to sexual obligations than Prager made it out to be, the focus of my distaste was on his assertive opinion as to what women want.

After his main presentation, during the question and answer session, I questioned his seemingly contradictory statements. How can it be that women want to be viewed as sex objects by their husbands, while, at the same time and as much as females love being treated as such, we also cannot sleep around or have meaningless sex. Without a substantial answer, Dennis Prager addressed me, personally, and stated, “I have no doubt at all that a woman would like her husband to think of her as a sex object,” predicating this belief on the notion that he “has never heard in [his] life from a woman” that “my husband doesn’t see me ever as a sex object and I’m thrilled.” When I offered my objections on the basis that I, a woman, do not want to be viewed as a sex object, he merely questioned whether I was married, as if my spousal status was the deciding factor on my desires.

There is no positive or admirable definition of the term “sex object.” Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a person regarded especially exclusively as an object of sexual interest,” and gives a similar definition of “a person viewed as being of little interest or merit beyond the potential for providing sexual gratification.” One does not have to be married to fathom how being viewed in such a crass and dehumanizing way is unwarranted and undesirable.

Over the past few weeks, there has been speculation that perhaps Prager does not truly understand the meaning of sex object, confusing it with the term “sexy.” How this helps justify his behavior, I am not sure, since that would imply he is simply uneducated on the topics he discusses. Regardless, the greater issue that lies at hand is Prager’s ignorance, his complete denial of the movement initiated by women, demanding to be treated as more than sexual objects for men’s gratification.

All one needs to do is scroll through social media to see the seemingly endless statuses of #MeToo, a worldwide sexual assault awareness campaign, jump-started by actress Alyssa Milano. These days, it is too often that a news headline will read of a once rich, powerful, and loved celebrity being fired or arrested on the basis of sexual assault. In just a few weeks, Harvey Weinstein went from being a successful movie producer to a shunned suspect and Roy Moore, who was considered a shoe-in for the Alabama Senate, lost the recent election due to sexual allegations as well.

Women, everywhere, are asserting their rights to be valued for more than just their “alluring breasts,” as Mr. Prager phrased it, and to be respected and adhered to. It is shameful and disappointing that Mr. Prager demands a married woman approach him and claim she does not want to be viewed as a sex object by her husband in order for him to cease this harmful declaration. Furthermore, his statement that I, as a woman, cannot speak on the topic of sexuality because I am not married leads to serious implications regarding the YU student body. Mr. Prager is being naive if he assumes that the only sexual activity on the YU campus is within a state of marriage.

Similar to any other college campus, YU has its share of couples, dates, and romances, as well as a hookup culture. I do not state that with negative connotations, nor do I wish to detail specifics, as it is not my business nor anyone else’s. However, it is important to make the point as the fine line between sexual activity and sexual objectification is often a dangerous one. Sexual activity is fine. As long as the relationship is consensual, it is healthy and normal. Sexual objectification is not on that level, and for good reason. Viewing the other party in the relationship as nothing more than an object for one’s gratification lowers their status in the relationship, allowing them to be dehumanized and disrespected, while the other party remains in control.

Mr. Prager is wrong. Sexual objectification is not bound to marriage and it never will be. It is, simply put, a state between two people, where one feels the need to maintain control over the other. A state that will not be eliminated until it is not only acknowledged, but condemned.