I was reading “Female Sexuality Still Terrifying to Conservative Lawmakers,” and it stuck me how much this fear of female sexuality drives much of the social turmoil we see these days.
The last century saw two major changes in thought: Race and Sexuality. On race, the Nazis drove the final nail into eugenics, finally and forever taking away legitimacy from that field of thought. Suddenly, in the words of the founders, we were forced to finally recognize that “all men are created equal.” No longer acceptable were discrimination based on race, immigration quotas based on race, etc. And, as the races bounded into full equality, so did the sexes. Between this trend of equality, the discovery of artificial birth control and wider educational opportunities, women’s liberation arrived with a bang.
These concepts were new, and, for many, were threatening. The races had never been considered really equal. And women had also been considered as lesser than men. Because of the risk of pregnancy, their sexuality had to be tightly controlled. Rape was a property crime — stealing what belonged to the father or the husband — and not a crime of violence.
Although not all agreed, it was no longer permissible to argue against these relatively new concepts in the public forum. To do so is to risk being called a racist or a sexist. So, instead, markers have been used. We discuss other things to avoid discussing the issue at hand.
In Franciscan history, at the time of the Capuchin reform, one reads endless tracts arguing about the length of the habit. Were they arguing about the actual length of a habit in and of itself? No. They argued about this issue because the actual issues were too sensitive to discuss.
So, instead of discussing racial relations, we discuss “reverse discrimination.” Instead of trying to rectify the effects of centuries of institutional racism, we say that doing so would be prejudicial against those in the majority.
And, I think, instead of discussing the issue at gender equality, we discuss abortion and the rights of gay and lesbian people. Many of those advocating the pro-life side talking about “saving babies,” but one can see that they are more concerned with controlling women’s sexuality than they are with what happens to those babies they’ve saved. They want to close abortion clinics, but also are systematically going after all programs for the poor. The babies will be saved, but their health and education will be severely at risk.
With the availability of abortion and artificial birth control, women are more free to engage in sex without the risk of having children. This is what, I think, many conservatives are trying to stop. (As the article I mentioned above argues, going after Planned Parenthood, as the Republicans are now trying to do, will seriously restrict access to birth control and that is actually their goal.)
And, I think that gay and lesbian rights were also, at their core, discussions about women’s rights. Gays and lesbians are people who also can have sex without risking pregnancy, and so are perfect markers for discussing the sexuality of women. One could discuss the continuation of limiting the rights of gays and lesbians without being labeled a sexist.
Unfortunately, gays and lesbians didn’t play along. It used to be that one could bash them without real penalty. But now, the argument has turned as gays and lesbians argue for the right to fight and die for our country and for the right to form permanent partnerships. The old arguments about the gay and lesbian lifestyle being hedonistic and unstable just doesn’t go anywhere anymore. Even the argument about saving traditional marriage falls flat. If one wanted to preserve traditional marriage, they wouldn’t stop the gays and lesbians from participating, they would instead outlaw divorce and pre-marital sex.
So now, as the author of the article points out, the truth is raising its head. The argument has returned to debating women’s sexuality itself and the rights enshrined in Griswold v. Connecticut — that is, the right of access to contraceptives.