YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

July 8, 2014

What is sexual freedom?

applesnakeIn my last blog (https://clarespark.com/2014/07/06/the-hobby-lobby-decision-and-the-war-on-women/), I predicted that the issue of sexual freedom would strongly affect the outcome of the next election cycle. A Facebook friend asked me what I meant by that. He took my ensuing response to express “responsibility” as the controlling value. I only partly agree with that judgment, but the issue bears more elaboration.

This blog expands the answer to my online acquaintance. It is partly  an opinion grounded in my particular experience, but also the result of historical research into changing mores. It is not a romp into relativism. I could come off as some kind of female ‘puritan’ and killjoy, though I don’t see myself that way.

First, consider the vogue for expensive weddings as no more than conspicuous consumption, female narcissism, and often absurd demands on the parental pocketbook. Note too that sentimental literature and romantic comedies are focused on that delicate period between puberty and marriage, where adolescent rebelliousness must be reined in for the sake of the status quo. Romantic love has long been associated with revolt from below. So a certain amount of order must be imposed on a process that could get out of hand. Free love, like free thought, has its limits.

The drama of the hunt and courtship dominates the mass media genres preferred by women, but stops at the usually humdrum period of marriage and parenting, where sexual passion almost inevitably fades, to be replaced by parenthood, community/political involvement, and the unforeseen demands of the aging body. Almost all our ideas about sex are shaped by maintaining our sexual attractiveness, including fashion, hair and skin care, “working out” and of course plastic surgery as if it is normal to be sixteen forever. While shopping the Bloomingdale’s July 4th sale, I heard one woman snort to another that Eileen Fisher’s flowing minimalist designs are meant for “menopausal women.”

wedded-blissswarovski

What I have already written should be obvious. No pop culture group celebrates companionate marriage and growing old together, let alone the day to day challenges of managing family life; nor are there trendy analogs to the Thomas Moore poem and touching popular song “Believe me, if all those endearing young charms….” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Believe_Me,_if_All_Those_Endearing_Young_Charms.) Instead we have the dubious passion for redecoration and home-building—a creative act in some cases, but also escapist. Old people, a growing part of our population, are stowed away out of sight and out of mind, unless they are fabulously rich and can attract gold-diggers of either gender.

Second, I rejected libertinism (often a consequence of “existentialist” despair, and “what the hell”), mostly because, though Casanovas and Don Juans probably think it is their birthright to cat around, for women it is most certainly the case that sex is not a drink of water. There is not only the rational fear of STDs, there is the partly irrational (?) fear of abandonment. Add to that the rational fear that birth control technology is imperfect, and you have anxiety during and after the sex act. (I am not suggesting that males do not have their own anxieties, partly over performance, partly over arousing usually buried feelings about Mother and the mother-son bond that may be problematic; the same goes for women, who may be anxious about “unresolved” relationships with Father.)

But all these considerations pale in contrast to the issue of abortifacients and abortions—an issue that is said to be highly “emotional.” Let me make a more materialist observation: the timing of her pregnancies is the single most important economic issue that women make. That is why many feminists are adamant about controlling “reproductive rights,” and take it to be a women’s health issue, not to be negotiated under any circumstances.

I understand that many religious persons see the “pro-choice” position, a symptom of mass media-induced “hyper-sexualization,” as the moral issue of our time, for eternal hellfire is often at stake. Some of the faithful are ready to go to the mat to overturn such laws as Roe v. Wade. Hence the polarization that complicates every election, for no Republican candidate who deviates from the pro-life position, or the related stipulation that stem cell research cannot be conducted with discarded frozen embryos, only adult stem cells, can expect to be nominated or elected (except in New England, perhaps). Meanwhile, in much conservative propaganda, late term abortions and infanticide are trotted out as talking points, as if all liberals and libertarians were potential baby-killers and communists.

The controlling context of this debate over abortion rights is the growing power of the state in surveilling and presumably controlling even the most intimate affairs of individuals. Many conservatives are appalled by “feminism” as if all feminists marched in lock step over “women’s issues,” or were out to destroy the family as the only haven in a heartless world.

Because of cultural/religious pluralism, institutionalized in the law of the land, pro-lifers can practice their religion without imposing a theocracy. It puzzles me that some media conservatives take a triumphalist tone, as if they were theocrats. It should not be a requirement that all Republican candidates are forced to conform to the Catholic/Evangelical social agenda, opposing not only abortion rights, but gay marriage. If statism is to be reduced, then religious conservatives should get their priorities straight and lighten up: as I have written before, capitalism/free markets are on the line. The women’s vote cost Mitt Romney the election of 2012, did it not? (https://clarespark.com/2012/11/07/capitalism-is-on-the-line/)

Here, finally, is how I view my most important feminist commitment, in which the welfare of children trumps individual preference—say for no-fault divorces. Having been through one such divorce in the early 1970s, I was in a position to observe the grief and confusion inflicted upon my own children. I don’t understand why feminists have not written more about the complicated fates of She Who Is Dumped and her offspring.

My own conclusion: if you are unwilling to put children’s emotional stability above your own whims or passions, then don’t have children. Obviously, if the marriage is so abusive, physically and emotionally, to spouse and kids that divorce is the only possibility of rescue from a disastrous home life, then divorce is the only remedy, but be prepared for the fallout affecting every member of the broken family.

divorcegg

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5 Comments »

  1. Hierarchies breed deceit? Well, perhaps so. Antonio Gramsci considered marriage a hierarchy. In fact, he was one of the first to recognize it as a “hierarchy of privilege” and a “relic of patriarchy” which must be leveled in order to bring about the new, “progressive,” cultural “hegemony.” And of course, Gramsci also knew that the democratization of marriage–in addition to its destructive effects on the reigning capitalist patriarchy–would bring about the demise of the nuclear family as well because its the slippery slope–the descent into anarchy and moral chaos which inevitably results when fundamental cultural institutions are redefined to include any and all conceivable human relationships no matter how repugnant to a universal moral sensibility.

    Comment by Darrell — July 8, 2014 @ 3:47 pm | Reply

    • Gramsci didn’t invent the left critique of marriage: Engels did in the 19th century. My blog was not about trashing marriage, but noting that marriage headed by fathers is no panacea. Human relationships are more complicated than that: a subject that conservatives shy away from, frequently, if not always. You should go beyond the usual rightist attack on communism. I try to do that on this website.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 8, 2014 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

  2. I’ve observed that the “Marriage Equality” movement seeks to “celebrate” companionate marriage, and in fact depends upon it, so someone is pushing the image. . . .

    Agreed that our cultural message to women is deeply flawed on both sides of the political aisle. Your statement, “The timing of pregnancies is the single most important economic decision women can make” is well put and needs to rise to the level of cultural meme. OTOH, seems to me that the recent Hobby Lobby decision is more about religious freedom than contraception since no one is restricting a woman’s freedom to access contraception in the US, and the debate is rather who is responsible to pay for it.

    Of course there will be some important secondary and tertiary effects of the Hobby Lobby ruling that have yet to be teased out. Unfortunately neither major party seems interested in dealing with real problems–of any type–instead working to find useful but badly distorted sound bytes. Agreed also that the “woman question” will never go away. Kate Pavlich has come out with an argument about how government dependence debilitates women rather than frees them.

    Comment by Terbreugghen — July 8, 2014 @ 1:30 pm | Reply

    • Contraception does not always work or sexual contact may be forced, hence the need for abortifacients. But it is true that the SCOTUS argument was grounded in religious liberty.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 8, 2014 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  3. […] As I have said over and over, “hierarchies breed deceit.” The Woman Question may never go away; in any case, the women’s vote may well decide the next series of elections. And it will be about sexual freedom. (For my explanation of “sexual freedom” see https://clarespark.com/2014/07/08/what-is-sexual-freedom/) […]

    Pingback by The Hobby Lobby Decision and the War on Women | YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — July 8, 2014 @ 5:26 am | Reply


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