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Seduction is a fine subject for a hot and steamy August. It is an interesting word, one that has rather pleasant connotations on the surface. It simply means to enchant, charm, entice, and to lead. When you trace the origins of that word back far enough however, you soon encounter some other root words, like treason, treachery, and deceit.

Today the modern definition has combined the two concepts so to lead has come to mean, to lead astray. To seduce has come to mean to charm someone down the wrong path. It carries the implication of deceit and manipulation with heavy sexual over tones. Culture, mores, history, and human sexuality, have all played a role in giving us our modern definition.

In the days of old, women as a group were not perceived as the primary seducers, as a temptress full of wiles and deceit sure to lead men astray. Ironically that is a more modern concept. Traditionally only men were perceived as being capable of seduction, while women were all pretty much thought innocent and naive, under the protection of fathers or family until marriage. Men often dreamed about Sirens luring men to their doom or mermaids enticing sailors into the deep, but these things were not the way of the world. They were a way for men to try to relieve themselves of a burden, of moral and sexual agency, of the responsibility they were forced to carry for both themselves and for women. This was serious business, men were sometimes killed for having “seduced” the wrong woman.

Somewhere along the path of  history, men managed to off load this burden of personal sexual agency, by transferring the load over to women. Women became the seducers, sure to trick and deceive men, who surely could not be blamed or held accountable for having sexually succumbed to feminine wiles. Christianity and culture did manage to affirm this idea in people’s heads. Eve herself was transformed into a temptress who seduced Adam into eating the forbidden fruit, rather than a victim of Satan’s deception. This contradictory archetype of Eve as both innocent and naive enough to have been deceived by Satan and yet also seductive, clever, and manipulative enough to have seduced Adam, still persists today in some circles.

Like many things within our culture what it all boils down to is a dispute over sexual agency and responsibility and who holds it, men or women. It has to do with attempting to avoid accountability and to pass the buck back and forth. You see evidence of this sexual confusion, these contradictory archetypes, in the modern world. Women are encouraged to empower themselves sexually and yet women are also being perceived as having so little personal sexual agency, there are consent laws on college campuses where men are now being burdened with having to prove not only that they themselves consented, but that she did too. Women no longer have to prove rape, men now have to prove consent.

We can forget equality here, these are very gender specific ideas. Recently I saw a poster where a couple of college kids were going drinking with the warning for the guy, “remember, if she has been drinking she cannot give consent and you could be charged with rape.” They are both drinking! His drinking however, does not relieve him of owning full sexual accountability for both of them to the point of criminality. Her drinking simply relieves her of any sexual agency or accountability. She is now deemed incompetent due to alcohol, while he is deemed extra competent due to alcohol. He has once again returned to his archetype as the male seducer and she his helpless victim. Predators and prey.

Conversely on the other side of the aisle, you will find attempts to hand all the sexual agency back over to women, to portray her as the seductress once again, as if all sexuality is entirely her fault because of what she was wearing, where she was hanging out, how she looked, as if men are simply helpless victims of women and easily led astray.

This is always what is at the heart of sexual politics, a gender competition over sexual agency and which gender owns the blame. The blame/shame game. Sexual matters can carry heavy shame that people rarely wish to be held accountable for, men or women. When we plan to blame the other person, we often must first dehumanize them, demonize them, so they become an appropriate receptacle for our own shame. It’s interesting to me, in our so-called open-minded culture where anything goes, sexual shame does not appear to be diminishing, but rather increasing.

Personally I’ve never been too interested in such silly games, but this is a serious thing in the world and now shapes much of our modern politics. As far as I am concerned in the year 2015, men and women both have total sexual agency and full responsibility for their own actions. I realize that  biology is a bit different between men and women, that men are often far more captivated by the physical, more visual, but just the same, when it comes to simple sexual attraction, both genders have full agency. Nobody falls victim to another’s charms and simply loses their mind and moral agency.

Seduction in the context of sexuality seems almost innocent to me for that very reason, we are not truly vulnerable to manipulation and deceit based only on physical attraction. We may wish to try to claim that is true, but it is not. Seduction in a purely sexual and physical way really means nothing more than to enchant, charm, entice, and to lead. Whether one allows themselves to be led or not is entirely one’s responsibility.

There is another edge to seduction that concerns me far more than seduction in a sexual context however, and that is when we enter into the realm of the psychological and emotional, of brainwashing and mind control, for the purposes of deceit and manipulation. This concerns me because these are the kinds of things people are truly vulnerable to because they slip in under the radar, leaving us unaware of what is happening and completely lacking personal agency. What we cannot see and reason our way through, we are powerless to resist. Advertisers do this, they play on our emotions, they push those biological triggers and before we know it we’ve been seduced into buying some product we didn’t even know we really wanted.

Anybody who doubts the power of seduction for the purposes of cultural manipulation should consider that less than a hundred years ago, humankind didn’t even have toothpaste or much interest in oral hygiene at all, and yet today to do without is unthinkable. Not that toothpaste was a bad idea, but it does speak to how easily seduction and manipulation can completely alter human behavior.

We see seduction being used today in politics, in education, in cultural mores. I watch these little tricks being used to manipulate people, to direct human behavior. One trick you often see being used is to gin up controversy. Dirty laundry sells and it is an unfortunate fact of human nature, but we’ll all look towards the train wreck to see what all the fuss is all about and shortly thereafter, start taking sides, drawing our tribal alliances. Something else people are vulnerable to are those we perceive as victims in need of our protection. Everybody wants to rescue a victim, to be perceived as a champion for the down trodden.

Sometimes it seems as if the media is just one endless loop of seduction after another. That’s what they do, that’s how they gain viewers. These tools of seduction are marketing ploys often used in political campaigns, in cults, advertising, the media, to sell books or products, and in education.

I really wish we could get over the sexual politics, the constant gender competition over seduction and perceived sexual agency, because we as a people have far bigger fish to fry. It is not so much men and women seducing and leading each other astray that is the problem, but rather the world stepping up its game for the purpose of manipulation and deceit, to lead us all astray.

The dangers of that should be obvious, if we are all being seduced, manipulated, and deceived, at that point, can any of us truly claim to have any moral agency of our own?