Choice: The Loaded Word

Just a brief followup on my previous post about women’s judgement on other women’s marriage decisions. Jezebel posted a piece today that perfectly summarizes my point, much more eloquently than I could. Basically Moore says that it’s all relative. I particularly like her explanation that

One: All kinds of relationships, with lovers and friends, with pets you care for, with yourself, in all varieties, can offer something toward our growth and/or stunting as people. Two: marriage, in and of itself, isn’t stable. Or intimate. Nor does it offer companionship. It’s a legal/religious agreement. The people inside of it can foster and nurture those things. Or not. A lot of ’em do. A lot of ’em don’t. That’s what the whole divorce rate is about.

I don’t see why people attribute what’s good about marriage to marriage as a concept, as opposed to the people in it and the work they are doing. Marriage is just a framework. Everything about the way it goes comes down to the two people in it and how they face the challenges that befall them.

(Emphasis mine) This is the same argument, essentially, that I’ve made actually about social media–that social media (Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, etc), are tools, but not, themselves, content, and you really need both. Content without tools means there’s no distribution, so to speak, and tools without content (a much more common way to interpret things) is empty and pointless — you’re essentially trying to eat with just a fork and plate. You need food though.

Moore asks, “Isn’t it weird to assume women don’t understand the risk of marriage, or not marrying, just as we understand the risk of marrying young, or old?” I agree, and would go one step further and point out that this comes back to the idea of choice, and understanding choices. I am pro choice, because I believe that people, women included, because you know, women are people, know best about their own (our own?) circumstances. They know when it is right for them to get married. They know when it is right for them to have a child. And people are better off when they are free to make that decision that they know if right for them. So I’ll also provide you with an incredible (seriously) argument about what women deserve by Sonya Renee, via RH Reality Check’s tumblr. It made me cry. But only because I already believe that women are people, people who are smart and resilient and know what they need, and I believe we should respect that as a society. I also believe that the only way to do that is through trusting women to make their own choices about their lives and their bodies.

Ladies Be Judgin’

I am a bit unnerved by Slate’s article urging young people to get married. It seems like it’s written as if marriage is a choice that you make unilaterally. The reality is, you have to agree to be with another person, and that other person has to agree to be with you. I feel personally a bit upset by this because I, personally, have always been open to relationships, but nothing has worked out. And all the better!! Had I married at 23, I wouldn’t have developed into who I am, I wouldn’t have traveled as I have, gotten to make the (sometimes) crazy decisions about moving to New York City and really getting to know myself and what I want in my life. I’m still on that path. I’ve never been opposed to someone else fitting into that, but they haven’t. And now, at this point, I’m doubtful that the sacrament of marriage is even something I’m terribly interested in. It has such a shitty history, beginning as something that was pretty much just passing “property” from one man to another, and many parts of that tradition still hold (rings, father walking his daughter down the aisle to “give her away,” asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, etc). I have always been a bit feisty. And never have I been more proud of that than I am today. I am not, by any stretch, opposed to finding a partner to share my life with, and theirs with me, but I feel like I have a much better idea of what that means, a much more realistic and mature idea, than I did at 23. Thank goodness I didn’t marry then!

But that is me.

I’m sure the author is perfectly happy as well, and I’m sure many of my married friends are content in their married lives. And I’m so so happy for them! I’m happy they’ve found what works for them! But no one should feel like they can’t do what is right for themselves (including marrying young). And the tone of Shaw’s piece is just so…judgmental. As if young men and women have perfect marrying-ready situations ready to go and should just go with it. Maybe other people are just more effed up than Shaw? I recognize the social pressure issues and societal norms, but maybe a lot of people are better off (read: happier) being single than in shitty relationships. And many relationships are shitty. Definitely not all, but pretty much all of the ones I’ve been in. So I’ve chosen to no longer be in those. And believe me, I’ve looked at my own part. I’ve done my work. And I’m better for it. But that didn’t make any of the relationships less wrong. It didn’t make anything fit. I suppose I should say yet. But my point is, I believe that because of all that, I will ultimately end up having a more fulfilling life and if I do have a lasting relationship, then it will be enhanced by the work I’ve done. The bottom line is, no one has been the right fit. It’s not about being perfect. But there are some standards, particularly regarding someone’s commitment to the relationship. Shaw is lucky (if she’s really as happy as she says). And that’s great for her. I’ve been lucky in many many many ways. Romantic relationships that last has not been one of them. It’s pretty self-absorbed to assume that everyone’s had the opportunities you have had. So, ew. And just, stop being so judgy!!

An Abortion Debate

A friend of mine on Facebook always responds to things I post that are particularly liberal/political, especially when they refer to abortion.  The most recent conversation was pretty fascinating, so I want to post it here.

It originated because of a link that I posted on Facebook, and then a couple people made comments about the evils the said article discussed (the proposed cutting of all funding for Title X, which supports family planning services and provides a large proportion of the funding for Planned Parenthood). And then a friend (we’ll call him X) who I met while I was at Appalachian made the following addition to the conversation:

PP is the nation’s largest abortion business. It was founded by a eugenicist interested in racial purity through selective breeding and its employees have been caught on tape multiple times accepting donations to specifically target minorities for abortion. Most recently, its employees were caught on tape offering to collude with rapists and sex traffickers.

Planned Parenthood does not offer “family planning.” They hawk abortion and artificial contraception, which is something very different. While it is an article of faith among liberals that contraception is the magical cure to all sorts of social ills, this is simply not born out by reality. In fact, artificial contraception does not even prevent pregnancy. According to Guttmacher’s own numbers, 54% of women who obtain abortions in the US were using contraception when they got pregnant. California, which has one of the highest rates of contraceptive use among low-income people, also has one of the highest abortion rates, and a recent study out of Spain – published in the journal Contraception – found a correlation between increased condom use and an increased abortion rate.

For all its tidy euphemisms, the service PP is most committed to is pitching unwanted babies in the trash. There is no reason that Americans should be forced to pay for this with their tax dollars. The supposed segregation of tax dollars is an accounting gimmick that frees up more money for abortion.

I’m not sure why the organization is even worried – birth control, eugenics, and abortion have always been promoted by rich white people bothered by the high birth rates among minorities, and these people are still around to fill in the funding gaps.

Thus began a very long conversation via Facebook that ended up being, I think, pretty interesting.  As I say, it is EXTREMELY LONG, so not for the faint of heart.  But it is an interesting argument.

My father (Bron) responded:

Where do right wing thinkers get these insane plots and notions about organizations such as Planned Parenthood? Been watching too much of Glenn Beck. His latest rants about what’s happening in Egypt even have the conservatives scratching their heads.

X’s response:

That’s funny, I don’t recall mentioning Glenn Beck in my previous post.

What I did point out was the fact that Planned Parenthood’s employees have been caught multiple times offering sympathy and aid to various racist and criminal schemes.

It is also a fact that Margaret Sanger was involved in the American eugenics movement of the early 20th century, which was focused on achieving racial purity through sterilization, birth control, immigration restrictions, and anti-miscegenation laws. Several figures in this movement held views that the Nazis frankly admired and took inspiration from. The movement was heavily funded by the wealthy Progessive social engineers of the day – the Carnegies and Rockefellers. Today, their counterparts Warren Buffet and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation continue to promote the ideology of international birth control.

But don’t take my word for it. A comment from a 2009 interview with Ruth Bader Ginsberg lays out the reasoning behind the movement: “Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.”

At the end of the day, it’s about getting rid of those undesirable populations.

Female friend’s response:

Regardless of what has been “caught on tape”.. The Planned Parenhood that I have gone to for years is nothing like what you describe X. Planned Parenthood has provided family planning for multiple familys of different races that I am friends with both in the Triangle and in Asheville. They are an organization that promotes sexual education & sexual health. I have also volunteered for Planned Parenthood and it is nothing like you describe.. Also, the ratio of black/white/hispanic people that came through the doors (in a clinic in Durham, no less) – were equally varried. Have you ever even been to a Panned Parenthood Clinic? Seen a doctor at one of their clinics? Maybe you should experience a modern clinic first hand before making this assumption, regardless of your facts from 2009?

X’s response:

The organization Live Action has obtained over a dozen videos of Planned Parenthood employees in ten states engaging in illegal activities including the covering-up the sexual abuse of minors, skirting parental consent laws, citing unscientific and fabricated medical information to manipulate women into having abortions, and accepting donations earmarked to abort African-American babies. Some would call that evidence of a pattern.

Planned Parenthood is a relic of an era when “racial hygiene” was in vogue and states were founding eugenics boards and forcibly sterilizing the “unfit.” Their abortion and birth control agenda is paternalistic both in nature and effect, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of minorities who obtain abortions nationally.

[Female friend], how deeply have you looked into the “sexual health” that they promote? Have you ever assisted during an abortion? Watched one on video or ultrasound? Have you ever questioned the effect that the widespread dispensing of contraception actually has on people’s lives? The birth control ideology has been around in earnest for almost a century, promising the moon if only we could get enough condoms in the streets. But that time has only seen an unprecedented proliferation of social pathologies like the broken family, teenage pregnancy, abortion, sexual violence, and STDs. Is it really “health” that is fostered by this approach?

My response:

So, I’m gonna step in here and remind everyone that this is a really personal issue for everyone involved. X, you perceive the way that abortion and artificial contraception has been dealt with in this country has been an effort of eugenics. I know about Margaret Sanger, but I also know what a difference having the option of birth control for women has on your life as a woman, both from personal experience and from hearing others’ stories about it (and reading the Bell Jar).

Even if birth control and condoms are not the answers to all the world’s woes (which they aren’t, I will be the very first in line to admit), it is one way to begin to work towards equality of genders. Admittedly, the over-arching issue to ME is giving both men and women WITH children more options in terms of work-child-rearing balance. More flexibility at work for fathers and mothers, and more financial support for higher education, as well as higher quality lower education for EVERYONE.

Is that something we can agree on? I think this is a really important conversation to have, but I also think that focusing on our differences in opinions and interpretations of fact are not helpful, and in fact, make us believe we share a lot less than we do.

Dad’s response:

One of the interesting things about this Planned Parenthood controversy is that this latest attack comes as a consequence of undercover tapings that were done by people with an agenda. They posed as people from an element of the streets that we all would admit is seedy at best. The responses of the staff in those tapes seemed to me like, all be it somewhat clumsy, attempts to be helpful while taking a non-judgmental stance about the life style of the scurrilous soul that they were having to deal with. They should probably have refused to have any dealings with anyone who was admittedly running a prostitution ring. It was designed as a no-win scenario and then propagated to “prove” how all the things X espouses about PP are true. To me it proves nothing except that the organization is trying to help people without respect to their occupations and, in the end, pretty scrupulous in the way it carries out delicate business that is difficult to do non-judgmentally. They dismissed the employee who made the wrong choices in the tape. And that clinic is having all employees undergo further training sessions to correct any problems. You can’t really ask for much more in the way of a response than that. That’s called “continuous quality improvement” in my book.

Planned Parenthood does offer abortions. So it’s understandable that anyone opposed to such procedures would find that untenable. But I am really tired of hearing from the conservative right about all the freedoms that they want from government regulations and interference while at the same time sitting in judgment of those who want to maintain women’s rights to make choices for their own bodies. We can’t make any kind of rules to regulate arms, but it’s okay to tell women they can’t have abortions or be counseled about contraceptives. We can’t regulate corporations, but it’s okay to shoot people who perform abortions and label them baby killers. If you’re going to pronounce libertarian positions, than at least be consistent. If government should not regulate gun ownership, then government should not be making rules so women can’t have health insurance that pays for contraception and/or abortions or organizations like Planned Parenthood find it impossible to offer abortions or contraception options to women.

I am also pretty fed up with males, particularly white and elderly, making laws that determine what kinds of choices women are going to have for taking care of themselves. I suspect it is a way of acting out misogynistic feelings that they have no other way to express. We as males, and I believe that includes X, have no right to be making judgments and laws or legal decisions that affect women. Women should be the only ones allowed to vote on these issues as far as I’m concerned. We don’t have to carry the fetuses or endure the subjugation that women have had to bear over the centuries. So I think we, as males, would be wise to step back and defer to our distaff members of society to help us determine what is best for women. As an example, I notice that the proposals in Congress now related to this subject are coming from white men, and I have not heard reports in the news of what women in that body are thinking about it.

Now let’s assume that X has a point with respect to Planned Parenthood and that some of its clinics are not maintaining squeaky clean records of unbiased counseling and women’s health care for those who find it difficult to obtain elsewhere (remember this is a nationwide operation and not all clinics are going to be operated with the same level of integrity). I would be happy to see a critique of the organization that led to recommendations to help PP do a better job of what they are doing, and to adhere more closely to the mission that it propounds. It’s always a good thing for organizations to know that folks are watching what they are doing. However, the tactics being used are clearly aimed, and much more likely to result in, the destruction of a generally pretty good operation that has been a constructive resource for women of all sorts, but particularly those who find it most difficult to find women’s health resources (and it does do more than contraceptive counseling or abortions–it offers women an inexpensive place to get pap smears and annual checkups) that are affordable. While X may find that result satisfying to his sensibilities regarding contraception and abortion, there are thousands of young women who will be denied access to care that is going to be very difficult to replace. It would be better to use the data, ill-gotten as it is by undercover agents from operations like Live Action, and let PP make corrections and get on with its hard and thankless task.

Finally, X says in his response that he did not mention Glenn Beck, to whom I made reference after his first posting. The reason that Beck comes to mind is that he seems to make parallel spurious connections to plots and socialism as X is doing with respect to contraception and early efforts to link contraception to population control as something founded by people interested in eugenics and goals of racial purity. The fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting contraceptive use wherever has nothing to do with eugenics or plots to achieve racial purity, and to suggest such associations is akin to what Glenn Beck does all the time. It amounts to finding boogey men in the closet and then looking for facts to support your worst fears. Contraception, today, is being supported by the Gates because it is a proven way to manage the spread of AIDS and it has nothing to do with population control. That seems more of an argument to suggest they want to try and preserve the health and well-being of the populations in Africa and India and elsewhere rather than to do away with them through population control.

There may be some truth that contraception has attraction to those who want to control population growth. That makes sense since the planet has a limited capacity to support life but hardly qualifies as proof of plots to engage in eugenics. In any event, contraception has limited effectiveness in this respect and we have learned that the best way to reduce birth rates is to improve the standard of living. So I would just caution about the kinds of plotting that we think we see in the actions of individuals, groups, governments or corporations. It’s usually more complex than a simple plot to some clearly definable end.

X’s response:

Shannon, as usual you outdo me in generosity of spirit. I apologize to you, [Female friend], and Bron if I let my passion get away with my fair-mindedness.

We can certainly agree that giving men and women more flexibility in their lives and more access to education is a goal worth pursuing. To bring it back to the issue raised by the original article, I would then ask, does PP promote this goal, and more to the point, should my tax dollars go to supporting their work? By the author’s description, Planned Parenthood is a benign and value-neutral health care organization, something that no reasonable person would object to giving public funds.

I think this characterization is misleading and inaccurate, and my comments on the history of the organization and Margaret Sanger were intended to challenge the white-washed picture presented in the article. I do not think that PP or its employees as a whole are engaged in conspiracies to exterminate black babies or anything of that nature. I will try to clarify my objections.

What the dispute is about:

Planned Parenthood IS engaged in the largest and most well-funded campaign in the nation to promote access to contraception and abortion. They are also part of the massive world-wide campaign to promote the same, ostensibly, of course, for humanitarian purposes. They justify this by claiming that it is “health care,” but clearly abortion and contraception are not health care in any usual sense of the term. Arguments about their morality aside, they do not rectify any illness or pathology, or solve any genuine medical need. Hence, the protest that PP deserves your tax monies as a health care organization is simply a rhetorical ploy predicated on the assumption that you already agree with the organization’s goals and methods.

Thus the dispute over funding Planned Parenthood reduces to whether you support the ideology of abortion-as-healthcare or not. Are the current pro-life calls to de-fund the organization motivated by prior convictions about the issue as well as the new criminal evidence that has come to light? Of course. But the defense from pro-choicers is also ideologically motivated, and not merely an argument from the organization’s merits. Pretending that it is otherwise, as the author of this article does, is a dishonest attempt to sidestep the argument. It seems to me that the most value-neutral and disinterested position for the gov’t to take would be to decline to give PP tax dollars, and this is the only thing the bill in question in pushing for. The non-controversial services that the organization provides could be met in other ways by other organizations (perhaps with the newly freed contract money).

Abortion and eugenics:

It is certain that easy access to abortion allows people with eugenic motives – whether they be based on race, disability, or gender – to easily carry out their goals. “What Happened to 300 million baby girls?” asked The Economist two years ago. What indeed? Sex-selective abortion is commonplace in Asia. In this country about a month ago a couple conceived through IVF and then aborted their twin boys – because they decided they wanted girls. Almost 90% of children conceived with Down Syndrome are aborted simply for that reason. Minorities obtain abortions at disproportionate rates, and abortion clinics profit nicely off of this. And the old idea that the poor and minorities need abortions because there are simply too many of them is still around, it is simply expressed in different language. Eugenics is less systematized and more covert than it was in the 1920s, but it is alive and well, and organizations like PP have a significant hand in making it possible.

It is disturbing that attempts to point out the aspects of the abortion business that should bother anyone (regardless of their views) are often brushed off and met with a circle-the-wagons response by the pro-choice crowd. This type of response is seen most chillingly in the Kermit Gosnell case in PA. The grand jury report notes that the pro-abortion governor’s office basically eviscerated any type of meaningful oversight of the state’s abortion clinics in the 90s, because this was seen as a concession to the pro-life side. The National Abortion Federation was also aware of the serious health hazards at Gosnell’s practice – but didn’t see fit to report him. So Gosnell operated for years without even attending to basic standards of sanitation. The result is that two women died under his care, and he developed a policy of delivering viable children alive and dismembering them with scissors. It is frustration with situations like this that leads many pro-lifers to welcome the Live Action videos, because they show the shadowy and exploitive side of the abortion business that pro-choice advocates, whatever their motivations, too often refuse to acknowledge.

Contraception:

The argument is consistently made by pro-choicers that increasing access to contraceptives has positive social effects, such as reducing STDs, pregnancy rates and hence abortion. However, the data on this subject is far from conclusive. As I mentioned above, it is not even clear that gov’t funding and easy access to contraceptives is effective at reducing pregnancy (and they are certainly available, Guttmacher estimates that 99% of women who have ever been sexually active in this country have used contraception at least once). The same dubious results apply to the use of condoms to combat AIDs (see for instance: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1728-4465.2004.00004.x/abstract ) Hence I dispute the claim that contraception is a social good on empirical grounds.

I also dispute it on ethical grounds. Contraception creates an environment where sexuality is easily divorced from commitment, seriousness, and even basic dignity. This has social repercussions far beyond any particular relationship or sexual encounter. Promoting contraception de facto promotes the ethics that go along with it, and these are degrading to everyone, but particularly to women. No one who has set foot on a college campus in the last few decades should dispute this. I also read The Bell Jar, Shannon, and I remember the scenes you are referring to. I don’t think the arc of Sylvia Plath’s life is the pattern we want to promote in society however.

I don’t doubt that some people use contraception responsibly, but the big picture is bleak. It is also important to note that family planning need not involve artificial contraception. It can be practiced using natural methods based on the woman’s fertility cycle. I do not necessarily object to contraception being legal, but I do object to the proliferation efforts, the moral hazard they promote, and the one-dimensional picture of sexuality that goes along with them. I also resent being forced to pay for such things through public monies.

On elderly, white, misogynistic males:

Bron, if the dispute were only about what women do with their bodies, then perhaps we would be forced to resort to extravagant theories about the motivations of white males with opinions on abortion. However, in an age of true-light fetal endoscopy [1], 4D ultrasound [2], and a sophisticated understanding of embryology [3], only someone appalling ignorant of biology could deny that we are talking about two bodies – and specifically what is to be done with the body that is not the woman’s.

Forthright arguments for abortion acknowledge this, and seek to justify why it is sometimes permissible to destroy the body of an unborn human being. I do not believe that it is ever permissible to do this; I am pro-life because I believe in human rights for all individuals. That is the position that is consistent with libertarianism (which privileges individual rights above all), and with both conservatism and left-liberalism (which privilege human community, though they understand it in different ways).

Perhaps I am wrong about this, and you are welcome to try to convince me that I am. But spare us the old straw-man about this being an issue of men telling women what to do with their bodies. The many women I know who are involved in pro-life work (which tends to be dominated by women) would no doubt be quite surprised to hear this. That position is not even an honest engagement of the issue, quite aside from its scientific, philosophical, and moral flaws.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/user/ProLifeInstitute#p/c/B0184BCB4B5E11FE/1/xIS-8WEmE2s
[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXYc0JojI-E
[3] http://php.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php?title=Main_Page

My response:

First of all, I would so much rather have this conversation in person. I appreciate your much more reasoned response, X–this sounds a lot more like something I can see eye to eye on, even if I don’t agree. I’m a bit confused at the claim that condoms don’t prevent the spread of HIV, since reading only the abstract of the article you linked means, to me, that in fact, condoms DO work, it’s more a problem of motivating people to use them (which is certainly an issue). Actually, from what I’ve seen, access to HIV testing, and when positive, medication and support in adherence would be a much better route, since decreases in community viral load decreases transmission rates (http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0011068), as well as provides longer and healthier lives for those with HIV infection. Condoms+use of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy could=the end of HIV. We just need across the board support (in so many ways) for people living with HIV infection, which isn’t happening since in the states, being poor puts you at risk for HIV and makes HIV the least of your problems.

I find your argument regarding contraception fascinating. I agree whole-heartedly about not wanting to promote Sylvia Plath’s life arc in society (at the very least, not the end of it); touche. But the birth control/baby part of her thinking, I really identified with as a woman–in reading her explanation about what the option of birth control meant to her, I realized that since I have always seen birth control as an option, I have allowed myself to have dreams about my future and my capacity to contribute to society apart from making babies. I would quite literally not have been able to become the woman I am without CONSISTENT access to effective birth control on the table. (the rhythm method is not something I sneer at, however for the VAST majority of women who are totally out of sync with their bodies, another thing we could fix but is huge, it is completely and brilliantly unrealistic).

I think, X, we have different ideas about sexuality.

You say:
“Contraception creates an environment where sexuality is easily divorced from commitment, seriousness, and even basic dignity. This has social repercussions far beyond any particular relationship or sexual encounter. Promoting contraception de facto promotes the ethics that go along with it, and these are degrading to everyone, but particularly to women. ”

I disagree. Birth control gives women the freedom to be sexual beings, as men have always been. Birth control has the ABILITY to give women sexual agency. I’m not sure what “social repercussions” you think open sexuality has, but I believe we take sex way too seriously, especially women having sex. I actually think sex should be totally removed from commitment–commitment is so much bigger than sex!! You should not make a commitment to someone just because you enjoy physical connection with them.

About basic dignity–I am the first to admit that the sexual world on most college campuses and for many many young women is not one of freedom and agency, despite birth control. But birth control is not the problem. Self-respect is essential, but I do NOT think it precludes sex without commitment. I know that’s racy, but I don’t think it’s bad for people to have permission to have sex outside of relationships (provided they use condoms, which I realize are not 100% but when used consistently and effectively, are very good at preventing transmission of STIs and pregnancy). Sex has NEVER been primarily about making babies (see the book Sex At Dawn), but about being connected to other humans, even if just for a moment.

We live in a society where women determine whether they want to have sex with someone based upon whether that person wants to have sex with them. Which I believe is a function of us not teaching our women to listen to themselves. We also raise men who feel like they cannot reject sex when it is offered because it makes them look “weak” or “gay.” These are things I am SUPER HAPPY to fight against. But I disagree entirely that commitment-less sex, by definition, is degrading to anyone, especially women. It can be, but I don’t believe it has to be.

As far as taxes, none of us gets to choose how our taxes are spent apart from abortion. I have a list of things I wouldn’t pay for if I had a choice, but it’s an all or nothing deal–you pay your taxes, they go to shit you don’t support. It’s the cost of living in a structured society.

I appreciated the fact that in this most recent leg of your post, X, you included a bit more about what you see as a solution. And as I say, I do hope that at some point, we could have this conversation in person.

Dad’s response:

X and Shannon: This has been a very interesting line of conversation. I’m glad I got a chance to be included in it. It has been stimulating enough that when, in a rather unusual state, last night I was unable to fall asleep immediately my mind was mulling over the various ramifications of this discussion. That in itself tells me that there is value in our give and take. Too bad the country’s politicians cannot find a forum in which to conduct similar respectful conversations about the issues we face. For some reason my attempts to follow the links each of you posted resulted in notices of page expiration, so I was unable to avail myself of whatever additional research you two had added as reference.

Like Shannon, I find that this would be easier in a face-to-face engagement. But I feel compelled to make just a couple more comments.

1) Regarding Shannon’s comment regarding agency coming as a result of women’s sexual freedom: I have to agree that the choices women make in regard to their bodies seems to have much more to do with their own level of self respect than anything else. It also occurred to me to note that I doubt that without the institution of contraception as a way for women to control their own destinies with respect to when they were going to get pregnant that we would be seeing the amazing changes that we are seeing today in the proportions of women a) going to college and b) the number that are going into professions such as medicine and law. We are now at the point where more women are getting college educations than men. Likewise, in medicine and law the proportions of females have sky-rocketed to where I believe women now represent close to half of the student body in these areas of study. I know that my own personal experience working with Family Medicine allowed me to track this amazing transformation. When I began with the discipline in 1979 the program had 18 residents and it was unusual to have more than 3 women at any one time. By the time I retired we had 8 per year and the proportions had reversed–we were lucky to have 2 males per class. I suspect that such changes would not have been possible had society not been affected so profoundly by the invention of contraceptive strategies that allow women to reframe how they are going to live their lives such that they can realize their individual potentials beyond and before what might be offered as a wife and mother.

2) RE X’s comments about contraception becoming a tool of eugenics for those so inclined. That is a point well taken. There’s no question that those who are inclined toward believing that there is ethical room to limit certain elements of the population through birth control will take advantage of whatever line of argument is socially acceptable while covering up their true motives. Such is the character of human underhandedness. I don’t know how we control that other than to do our best to maintain a watchful eye on events as they unfold and intervene on behalf of the victims of this kind of behavior where it is being perpetrated. I still am not convinced that PP has these kinds of motivations as an organization. Perhaps its founder did–I really don’t know. And to the extent that there have been abuses of the women who use PP’s services I certainly would support interventions to see that they are stopped. My sense overall from what I know about it is that PP does more good than harm, and I would vote for corrective, rather than punitive, action where called for.

3) RE X’s contention that abortion and contraception are not forms of health care. I find the notion that the contention that

“they do not rectify any illness or pathology, or solve any genuine medical need…”

is way too narrow a definition of health care. I spent almost 20 years working with doctors and training them. One of the issues that we faced in the discipline of Family Medicine was that much of the medical community seems to hold with this view. However, one of the lynch pins of FM’s practices is that the psychosocial elements of a person’s life are equally as important as the physical. In fact, there was a common saying in the business that more than half of everything that comes into the office requires more of psychological treatment than medical treatment using drugs or procedures of some sort. So I don’t think that it is much of a stretch to call what PP does with respect to abortion and contraception health care. Today most of the medical community would support that view without much question.

4) RE my comments about white, misogynistic males. I believe that I may have been too specific. This is largely due to the fact that most of our legal codification in the US from the Constitution to an enormous proportion of all the laws on the books can largely be traced to a) males who perpetrated them (both the good and the bad) and b) white males because that’s mostly what has been elected to our political offices from the days of our founding fathers to the current days. I don’t know this for a fact, but I would be terribly surprised if we did not find that white males make up the largest proportion of all classes of legislators in the US Legislative branch today, despite the increases of minorities and women who have managed to get elected. It’s changing but slowly. I would actually suggest that if we examine the historical records that we would have no trouble supporting the claim that males throughout history and without regard to cultures around the world, have been responsible for making the laws that determine how women are treated as well as telling women what they can and cannot do with their lives. Sexism and victimization of women in the US and around the world is very alive and we have hardly made a dent in the deleterious effects that it has on untold numbers of our sisters’ lives. It is anything but a “straw man” as you referred to it. Talk to a woman who has suffered abuse or had to make heart rending decisions about their bodies and you will understand that very real and palpable damage is being done because men take their rage and self loathing out on the women in their lives. Call me naive, but I am one who believes that supporting feminism is an ethically proper position for a male to take.

5) Finally, regarding the question of bodies and life. There is a scientific argument that is powerfully used by those who oppose any sort of abortion that because we can observe all the features of a human being in a fetus that in fact we have a human being. Therefore, we should hold this life as dear as the life of the adult who is carrying that fetus. The truth is that we do not really know, and no one can prove, whether the body of a fetus should have equal value to that of the mother based on suppositions of consciousness. The appearance of human features proves nothing. Particularly if the argument, which it often does, diverts into a teleological or theological direction. People want to suggest that the fetus is a conscious person with the same rights as an adult or a newborn and therefore we should preserve the “life” of the fetus as we would a baby or the mother. One could view it equally as well as a seed of life yet to be fulfilled and therefore a reasonable choice to terminate its continued existence should it be deemed to be better for the mother, or for the child for that matter. Equality of rights for fetus and mother may be a perfectly legitimate position to take if we all agreed on the same principles of our relationship with Nature or the Great Spirit. However, we do not. Given certain theological positions one could say that the fetus is an offering from the spirit world of life which we can accept or reject. Since we have consciousness prior to coming into this world, there is no harm in ending the beginnings of that consciousness here and letting it return to whence it came. Likewise, atheists as well as many believers in God of many stripes are probably going to hold with the belief that the life of an adult deserves more consideration than the fetus that has yet to really have consciousness as we know it.

Whatever of the diverse positions that are possible that one might hold, we live in a country whose premise is that individuals should have freedom to make personal choices and that these should not be limited by someone else’s explanation of how God and the Universe relates to us. Since no one explanation suffices for all, the only thing that we logically and legally do as a country is provide people with the option of ending a pregnancy or not depending upon their personal consciences. And I would agree with Shannon on this that taxes are collected as a part of the structure of society as we know it. If some of it goes to support programs that allow abortion, I find that no less burdensome nor horrific than that my taxes go to support a war machine that wreaks havoc throughout the world. I would love to say that you can’t use government funds to kill people in my name. I don’t get that privilege.

As a final comment on this theme I personally, if I examine my heart, find it difficult to think of terminating a fetal existence. Fortunately, I’ve not had to make that decision. It is not to be done lightly, however, I do see situations where it seems that it would be better to terminate than continue a pregnancy for humanitarian reasons having to do with either the state of the mother or the situation that a child would have to endure growing up. If our society were more inclined to provide the kind of support that a woman would need to carry a pregnancy to term and raise the child, I would personally be more swayed that narrowing the times when we allowed abortion made sense. But our current societal attitude seems to me to put young women in an untenable position of making them feel that they have to have any unwanted pregnancy and then leaving them virtually out in the cold to fend for themselves as best they can. That seems inhumane and a world that a newborn is perhaps better not to be brought into.

This has gone on way too long and I apologize for the long-windedness. This only touches on the tip of the iceberg of thoughts that I have countenanced. But I thank you both for stimulating my thoughts in this way.

X’s response:

I would also like to have this conversation in person, but for now this final salvo will have to do. I’m also glad that I’m not the only one who regularly exceeds the 8,000 character limit for FB comments. 😉

There is too much going on in this conversation to respond in detail to everything, but I will try to address the main threads of thought.

Regarding Planned Parenthood:

We may not be able to choose where our tax dollars are sent, but in many cases we can influence the process. And sometimes, if enough people push for it, we do get to choose. There is good reason to push for change if there are legitimate reasons for concern. And there are multiple reasons to be concerned about Planned Parenthood. The availability of abortion and contraception may be great for young, professional women on the upswing in life. But it is also great for those interested in eugenics, those who would coerce abortions, sex traffickers, abusers, and rapists interested in covering their tracks. And the Live Action videos show that in many cases, Planned Parenthood is less than careful about how they investigate the circumstances surrounding the services they provide – and new videos keep coming out. Bankers, businessmen, and generals are scrutinized by Congress when questions arise about the way they use federal money. Planned Parenthood should be subjected to the same scrutiny.

Regarding HIV and condoms:

Shannon, the article I posted noted in the abstract: “the public health benefit of condom promotion in settings with widespread heterosexual transmission, however, remains unestablished.” You responded with the common argument that this is because people aren’t using condoms correctly or often enough. But that is a little glib isn’t it? With that position, you can never lose the argument. No matter how available condoms are, and regardless of whether their availability actually stems disease transmission, you can always respond with “people just aren’t using them enough.”

Condom promotion has mixed results, and this is because it is an approach that mistakes what is a multi-dimensional social problem rooted in how people live their sexuality for a simple technical problem rooted in keeping bodily fluids separate. As the article notes, reigning in the number of sexual partners has been more beneficial than condom promotion in countries with widespread AIDs epidemics. Social problems are always more than merely technical – at their root societies are built on how people view and treat each other, and at the root of social problems we can always find distortions of these relationships. In the case of AIDs, the promotion of condoms distorts how people see each other, lending a false sense of security (and even legitimacy) to promiscuous behavior. Anti-retrovirals are needed for sure, but they should be accompanied by a humanized view of sexuality, not one that encourages a merely instrumental view of other people.

Regarding contraception:

You are right that our disagreement ultimately leads from abortion through contraception to views of sexuality itself. We must linger on contraception for a moment because that is the crux of the disagreement. It is actually more fundamental an issue than abortion, because abortion is, at the end of the day, a species of contraception, and this is why it is clung to so fiercely. The sexual revolution begins with contraception; once this was accepted in society, abortion would inevitably follow.

You say that contraception puts women on equal footing with men, allowing them to be sexually active without fear of life-altering pregnancy, allowing them to use their sexuality in a purely instrumental way – in service of and only to the extent of their desires. I am not unsympathetic to these arguments. The point you made the last time we disputed this issue about the continuing vulnerability of women to unplanned pregnancy has stuck with me. Hopes, dreams, and plans, not to mention bodily autonomy, are very good things, things that every person should have a chance to make, and things that can be irrevocably altered by the exercise of sexuality.

However, if we take these values as absolutely inviolable, then abortion must inevitably be kept available. For the gestation of a child will interfere with all of them. If the woman’s will is absolute, then she must be allowed to be the final arbiter of the child’s life. And this is where I can no longer be a fellow-traveler with the rhetoric of liberation and autonomy, for the simple reason that this line of reasoning has created a massive body count. If only it were an issue of the woman’s body alone, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

With abortion we find ourselves staring into a moral abyss. And if we turn around and ask how we got here, the path runs straight through contraception. Contraception seeds the ground for abortion, because it makes the intoxicating promise that people can expect to engage in consequence-free sexual behavior. No society that has this expectation will surrender the right to abortion as the final solution and last resort escape from the consequences of sexual behavior. The contraceptive mentality banishes responsibility entirely from the picture of sexual behavior, and the only moral value becomes having “safe sex.” But this sex is never entirely “safe,” no contraception is 100% effective, even if contraceptive use could be guaranteed 100% of the time. It is sometimes argued that no one is really “pro-abortion,” they just want to keep the option on the table. To some extent I believe this, but I do not accept it as a morally superior position. The end result of abortion is the same, regardless of whether we weep or laugh on the way to the clinic.

“Safe sex.” Isn’t this an odd concept? If sex is for bonding, as you describe, why must we keep ourselves “safe” from our partner? Why must we hold back? A humanized view of sexuality would recognize that sex is inherently a procreative-type act. I say “procreative-type” because of course procreation is not the only purpose, it is also for bonding, for union. And even though sex pursued with procreative intent is not successful in achieving this every time, it is still worthwhile. The reproductive telos of sex is readily apparent from the biology of sexuality – procreation is removed from the picture only under the highly artificial circumstances made possible by modern contraceptive technology. But that is not the full picture. Sex also has a unitive telos, but the irony is that we can only authentically experience this unitive aspect if we do not contracept. For the unitive aspect of sex is an objective and true unity – not merely a simultaneous experience of orgasm (which can only be experienced individually) or a subjective experience of emotional bonding. The unity of sexuality comes because together the man and woman have the ability to unite their bodies along a new dimension of their being toward a common biological purpose. Though rooted in the biology of our sexuality, we experience this unity in the emotional and spiritual dimensions of our being as well.

And this is the root of the confusion in our society over love and sex – we are out of touch with our bodies. The attempt to banish the biological aspect of sex from the picture has left our minds and souls longing for the real unity that can only be rooted in biology, but once anchored there, can be fully experienced in our emotional and spiritual being. This kind of sex provides a natural link between old and new generations, and a natural relationship between bonding and family. Without it we are atomized and abstracted individuals lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other, and this is the source of much of the distrust, alienation, and breakdown of families in our culture.

Are women losers in this rejection of contraception? I do not think so. While certainly both sexes must surrender their freedom to use sex purely for their own desires, in the end, I think it is radically equalizing. To paraphrase Elizabeth Anscombe, the view of sexuality I am describing holds that men ought to be as committed in their sexual relationships as men historically expected honest women to be; but the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little committed as men have gotten away with being in the past (and of course, the present).

I realize I may have lost you at some point during this exposition of sexuality. But perhaps it at least fascinated you, and perhaps you understand a bit better why someone would reject contraception.

Regarding the moral status of the fetus:

I was not clear enough about my position regarding the critical question of what the fetus destroyed by abortion actually is. And this is absolutely the critical question. Whether we call it ‘abortion,’ ‘terminating a pregancy,’ ‘choice,’ or what-have-you, it is undeniable that the embryo or fetus is destroyed by this process. The question of whether it is permissible to let anyone have this procedure must depend on what kind of thing it is that we are destroying when we end the pregnancy. If it is just tissue, something like a tumor, then clearly it is permissible. But if we are destroying a human being, the moral status of the act changes dramatically, and we can legitimately question whether anyone should be allowed to make this choice.

Let me be absolutely clear: my argument is not based on the simple presence of visible human features on the fetus, nor is it based on ideas about consciousness in the fetus, nor is it based on any sort of religious idea about Spirits or Souls. I only ask you to accept two things: a) the biological facts of human development and b) the founding principle of our society that human individuals have certain “unalienable rights… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Since your background is in medicine, I hardly need to explain to you that the fetus is a human individual – that is, an individual member of the species homo sapiens. Biologically, it is not merely a seed or a potentiality – there are critical differences between the gametes and the embryo. As Robert George and Patrick Lee have written:

“… the entity produced by the union of spermatozoon and oocyte is a complete, though developmentally immature, organism. Unlike the gametes, it is not merely part of another organism; nor is it merely something that can be used to produce a complete organism. At fertilization, the ovum and the sperm cease to be and something new comes to be — an organism (the embryo) whose genetic constitution and epigenetic state orient and dispose it to develop in the direction of maturity as a member of the species.”

The proper biological answer to the question “what is the human embryo/fetus?” is “it is an individual and complete, though developmentally immature, human being (organism).” To be sure, the few-hours-old embryo is extremely developmentally immature, however this does not change the fact that it is a member of the species. Human development is a process that lasts until the individual’s mid-20s. No one would deny that an infant or toddler is a human individual based on the fact that they are also developmentally immature. The important reality here is that the embryo or fetus, no less than the infant or toddler, is a complete and individual human organism that is developing to maturity by an internally self-directed process that, given proper nutrition and environment, will continue until the individual’s mid-20s. That is my first contention. This much is demanded by basic biology, and notice that I have not made reference to ideas of mind, soul, or even personhood.

Now, consider a teenager. No one who accepts the basic principles of our society would deny that this teenager has an unqualified right to, at least, life. However, many deny that the fetus has the same right to life. Biologically, both are developmentally immature human individuals, thus those who deny the right to life of the fetus must hold that there is some decisive difference between the two. But what is this difference? Why does the teenager have a right to life? It cannot be tied to his level of development, because this is a property that is not equally possessed by all humans. We would be forced to conclude that the right to life is contingent on age, and is not shared equally by toddlers, teenagers, and adults. Tying it to any particular physical or mental power introduces the same sliding scale problem. This brings us to my second contention: the reason that the teenager, you and I, and anyone else share an equal right to life, even though we do not share equal mental or physical powers or the same level of development, is simply because we are individual human beings. If the right to life depends on anything other than membership in the human species, then we cannot consistently hold that it is either universal or unalienable.

Some still protest that it is obvious that a teenager is a person and that a fetus is not, and only persons can have rights. At this point I would point out that it is the pro-choice position that has introduced (and now depends on defining) the difficult concept of personhood, not the pro-life position. And I would further ask: how sure are you that the fetus is not a person, and when does personhood begin? For it is now absolutely critical to make that determination, lest we deny a human person the right to life, violating both our commonly held standards of morality and the 14th Amendment. And thus the pro-choice position ends in a vexing difficulty: if we turn around and try to tie personhood to physical or mental features that are contingent on the individual’s state of development, we run again into the sliding-scale problem. We cannot provide a consistent justification for considering personhood either unalienable or universal, and we could reasonably deny personhood and thus basic rights to large numbers of human beings well past birth.

The position that the human fetus is somehow less than human and has less than a full claim to the right to life can ultimately be grounded only in sentiment or nebulous and poorly-articulated ideas of personhood and “full humanness.” A teenager looks like us, and thus is easy to empathize with. A fetus does not look like us, and it is harder to feel a moral obligation to him, especially when our desires and autonomy are imposed upon by the continued development of the fetus. However, any attempt to articulate this position in a way consistent with both biology and our fundamental concepts of human rights ends up undermining the case for protecting anyone’s human rights. And this is why I reject that argument.

We can go further however. Some, and I am thinking of Judith Thompson’s defense of abortion, will grant that the fetus can lay claim to both humanity and a right to life, but will still hold that the mother retains the permanent right to end the pregnancy if she so desires. To be sure, in Thompson’s essay there is some attempt to distinguish good and bad reasons for ending the pregnancy, and Thompson leaves open the possibility of some restrictions on this right. However, I am inclined to think that if you are pro-choice, it matters very little from a moral standpoint *why* you take this position. The end result is after all the same whether a woman has an abortion simply to preserve her bikini body or whether she chooses it only because of a truly desperate situation. Since the only reason to have even the mildest hesitation about abortion would be because of some concern for the moral claims of the fetus, and since these claims are equally ill-served by the abortion chosen for frivolous and the abortion chosen for serious reasons, then it cannot make any difference why you think abortion is permissible. The woman either has a right to choose or she doesn’t, there are really no meaningful gradations in this position. Both of you, Shannon and Bron, argue from this position: that the woman simply has a right to choose.

I submit to you that this is nothing more than privileging the strong over the weak; it is oppression, plain and simple. The unborn fetus cannot speak up or defend herself, and thus is easily traded away in favor of the woman’s will in the situation. Whatever the woman’s real or imagined grievances against history and society, she is undeniably the stronger party in the relationship with her unborn child, and in abortion, the stronger party wins. The fetus undoubtedly presents a hardship for the woman, imposes a nine-month obligation, but the weak often impose an obligation on the strong. If we reject our obligation to the weak, this also will not end with the fetus. Already we see this in our society. Having abandoned the unborn to the ideology of the will, we are beginning to turn against the disabled and the elderly. Ideas are becoming current again about who is and who is not fit to be born and to live based on genetics and based on consumption. Where will is paramount, the weak will always lose.

My mind is (obviously) unchanged, at least as far as the law is concerned, but I think X makes a pretty solid case for the protection of some kind of innocent life.  I just can’t support that at the cost of women’s happiness/convenience lives. Abortion (that is legal) is safer than childbirth.  And therefore, requiring a woman carry a fetus to term, even if she is to give the infant up for adoption, requires not just the inconvenience of being pregnant, but really and truly possibly her life.  That, to me, is really the bottom line.  If childbirth NEVER ended in the death of the woman, I could agree to X’s argument (perhaps) to protect the weak in our society.  But this is not about that to me.  Anyway, I don’t deny it’s a contentious issue, and I really do appreciate having the opportunity to think more about it.

The Price of Sex

My feminist staple, Jezebel, has a take on a study that was discussed on Salon about how the price of sex is decreasing. The Jezebel article is a personal take on it, arguing that all this marriage advice is pretty useless–just anxiety-producing.  Agreed.  I am pretty disturbed by this article, though, for its encouraging commoditization of sex, particularly for men.  Salon interviews the author of a study from the University of Texas at Austin, Mark Regnerus.  Regnerus explains that sex has become “cheaper” for men–he claims that because men will pay for sex, either with other men or women, but women won’t, that means it’s more “expensive” than sex that women look for.  Though this is a pretty logical conclusion economically, sex is a little different than other physical commodities, and thus, I would argue, should be treated differently (much like health care–though that’s another post).  Sex is not a zero sum game.  If I have sex with one person, it doesn’t mean I don’t necessarily want to have sex with someone else.  Even immediately after.  It’s not like if the first guy gets it, the second doesn’t.  They could BOTH get it.  Or neither.  Very different from an apple, which if I eat, is gone.  No one else can eat that apple.  So that’s the first fallacy to me.  Plus, I would argue that men don’t really pay for sex.  They pay for something else.  They pay for faux vulnerability.  The ability to be intimate with someone without having to mess with cultural norms, and without the possibility of pain.  I’ve heard it said that men pay not for sex, but for the woman to leave (hah, hah, right??!).  I’ve also heard that men pay not for sex, but to eschew any possibility of getting rejected.  I think there is something to be made of the fact that women can get whatever they’re looking for that includes sex for free, while men are willing to pay for it.  Though I also might argue that a lot of times, both men and women are confused about what they want–thinking they want more or less from the context of sex than they really do.  But that is cultural.

So I have a problem with the main crux of the claim that sex is something that can be understood as a marketplace like any other good or commodity.  But let’s work with that.  Let’s say that it is.  Regnerus continues to explain how the sex market works by pointing out that “theoretically, if sex is valuable to her then she’s not going to trade it away to just some crummy man.”  Which may be true theoretically.  But what if sex isn’t valuable to her? What if she enjoys it, and it is something she freely gives?  What then??  Regnerus also explains that “we report that 35 percent of men’s relationships are reported to have become sexual within two weeks; and 48 percent become sexual within a month. That gives you an indication that it doesn’t take long for men to access sex, so it must not be all that valuable, right? That’s how we get an indirect sense of the price of sex.”  HOLD UP!  If you don’t wait for longer into the relationship to have sex, it is less valuable??  Here’s where I start to get really pissed.  Why would you WAIT to do something that is a)not disappearing and b)NOT valuable?  If I had access to an infinite supply of, hm, let’s say, delicious chocolate cake that would not make me fat, WHY would I let it sit on my counter for 3 months, or a year or two ([until I’d had a chance to marry it and make sure only I could eat it, right?? ;-)] to have a piece?  What world does this make sense in?

Oh, right.  One where women have “sex” to “give” to men.

But then, Regnerus continues on to explain if “sex was the highest possible cost. You’d see women never having sex with anyone until a man commits to marry her — that’s the most expensive thing you can charge.”  And here’s where he begins to limit the role of men.  Why is marriage always about trapping a man?  Men benefit more physically, emotionally, and more recently, financially (which the article mentions–it begins by pointing out that women have a smaller pool of “eligible” men from which to draw because more women than men and now attaining higher levels of education).  Why is there this myth that women somehow need to get married? I suppose you could argue that they actually are so harmed by marriage (again–physical health, emotional health, and financially) that we must convince them that they will be better off if they’re legally partnered, but ugh.  I’m so stuck on this–“[marriage is] the most expensive thing you can charge” for sex.  As if marriage somehow benefits women.  HOW does marriage protect you?  What benefit is conveyed by marriage that it warrants being some huge payment for the sex that women evidently don’t want to just give away?

Regnerus also seems to think that slut-shaming is the way to “increase” the price of sex–he claims that “it used to be women would shame each other for selling low.”  Maybe if sex were something to auction off.  I suppose this whole argument assumes monogamy.  And Regnerus points out that women are competing for men and that they do that through “offering” “inexpensive” sex as undergrads.  Ugh.  This reminds me of the article in the NY Times about the shortage of men, which specifically mentions the University of North Carolina, where I went to college.  The argument there is essentially the same, if a hasty generalization as opposed to a ridiculous conclusion from research.  One young woman explains that many of her friends “meet someone and go home for the night and just hope for the best the next morning, ” which begs the question–the best? What is the best? Why must the best mean that you have some sort of a relationship? He’s probably a douche-bag.  The young woman further explains that “Girls feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with, to lock it down,” which is utterly disturbing.  I think this is a great qualitative example of how this whole thinking is a self-feeding cycle.

The more women’s attitudes tend toward “giving” sex away instead of making a decision about whether to have sex or not based upon whether they WANT to or not, the more men are able to treat sex with women as commodities.  It isn’t about making sex more expensive.   It’s about looking at sex as a shared experience, instead of an exchange of something tangibly valuable.  It’s about fostering an attitude toward relationships that recognizes them as something that can, of course, be fantastic and worthwhile but stops short of placing them on a pedestal that is unattainable and extremely unrealistic.  Many relationships fail.  Just because you locked some dude down doesn’t mean he’ll stay down.  And why must we promote this idea that men have to be locked down anyway?  Can’t they choose to be in a relationship of their own volition?

Yet, Regnerus offers some advice for women.  He says that “giving it away early gives a great deal of power to him,” so women should restrict sex until later in the relationship.  I’m sure you can guess what I’m going to say.  I have a problem just with the language he uses.  GIVE it away?? Still stuck on this commoditization.  And Regnerus goes on to undermine his own argument, admitting he doesn’t know how much “bargaining power” an individual women has (evidently, we all have to be on board for this restriction of sex for it to “work”).  Women could definitely get “underbid” by their slutty neighbors, or that round-heeled woman at the end of the bar.

What is most disturbing to me is the underlying (and sometimes not so underlying) message that “women…are paying a social price for success,” as the NY Times article states.  The Salon article says this in its own way.  The message, though, is that maybe this success in other areas of life–career especially–isn’t (or shouldn’t) be worth giving up “success” in relationships to women.  The problem to me is that if you just look at sex a little differently, if you just take a relationship off the table as some prize, or something to be exchanged for sex, it changes the picture immensely.  But that requires seeing women as willing participants in sex.  It’s kind of amazing to me that this thinking is as radical as it is.  If you think about it, the reverse implication of this is exactly what Andrea Dworkin argues in Intercourse–that all heterosexual sex is, at some level, rape.  And it’s amazing that while Dworkin is pretty out there, her characterization of heterosexual sex as rape actually is the foundation of the argument that sex is a commodity.  Who would’ve thought?

The interview ends with Regnerus’ explanation that “this is not about getting sex. Women can get sex whenever they want. Post it on Craigslist and you can have it within the hour. This is about getting commitments,” which pretty much sums it up.  Maybe “women are not as successful in relationships as perhaps they once were,” but who defines success?  The sociology research community studying relationships has some work to do, in my opinion.  Regnerus claims he is using a theory that social psychologists have come up with (the one that I am so fond of, that sex is a commodity?).  Herein lies the problem.  There is an entire field of people who are doing research, using interviews with people, to supposedly prove that this market is real.  But I think we also must examine the anthropological aspects of these issues.  What are the reasons women allegedly are so desiring of relationships and commitment? Part of me cannot believe that there is this entire article, and an entire BOOK that Regnerus wrote with his research partner (“Premarital Sex in America,” if you’re interested), and the question is about this marketplace philosophy that never examines the impetus for placing commitment and marriage on such a high pedestal.  I also just really hate the position the commoditization of sex puts men in.  They become takers and wanters of sex, instead of people.  Sex can be a beautiful, fun, pleasurable thing–whether with someone you care deeply about for a lifetime or an evening, or someone you don’t really give a rat’s ass about.  But that’s when it is sharing, not just some kind of exchange.

On a more personal note (and I apologize, this is getting mammoth), I really do want a relationship.  Commitment is important to me, at least to a degree of sharing a life with someone.  However, sexual monogamy is not, to my mind, essential.  I have no idea what my overall relationships will look like.  But I think we need to re-examine a lot of our ideas about what commitment means.  So many marriages are broken up by infidelity when they don’t really have to be.  And while I have some concerns from a public health perspective in regards to sexually transmitted infections, condoms are really very effective (as much as the abstinence only team would like you *not* to believe that).  I think our marriages would be more stable (isn’t that what these people want??!) and our people much more satisfied if we could drop our guard a bit about monogamy.  For more on that, I will not hesitate in recommending Sex At Dawn, by Christopher Ryan, PhD and Cacilda Jetha, MD.  It is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.  Hands down.  Also hilarious. Though non-monogamy is not for everyone, and I’m not sure even if it for me, I think the only way we can get out of a patriarchal culture is by de-commoditizing sex, which can only be done if it is more free.

I am a Feminist: what that means

Evidently I’m fascinated by Sarah Palin.  I just realized my most recent post was about her, and I’m about to use her as a jumping off point again. I just read this article about Sarah Palin mentioning in her newest book that she thinks feminists have made everyone hate women and talking about abortion not being a real choice, whatever that means. I just wanted to clarify my own thoughts about what “feminism” and being feminist mean to me.

First of all, Palin claims her argument against feminism is in part because feminists discount the fulfillment motherhood can bring, and paints women as victims. I would argue that some women are actually taking a stand against patriarchy and rape culture, and empowering themselves quite effectively. Both of these examples are people who are feminist, truly standing up to the realities of patriarchy that remain in our society.

Here are some things I think it’s important to note up front. Feminists do NOT hate men. In fact, I don’t really think the term “feminist” does the movement justice because really, it’s about being for people, human beings. Feminism is not about controlling other people–quite the opposite. It’s about recognizing the piece of truth in everyone’s view of things, and it’s about respect for everyone’s choices, opinions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs. The problem with this way of thinking occurs with people who are NOT willing to acknowledge the truth in others’ view points and who furthermore try to push their beliefs on others. The main tenet of feminism is respect, whereas people like Sarah Palin mostly want to change everyone to be like them. And if you can’t change (because you’re poor, or not white, or gay), well, then eff you! You don’t deserve happiness or satisfaction in life. Feminists believe everyone deserves a fair shake. At least the type of feminist I am.

What I’m describing could easily also be called progressivism. But the feminist aspect also recognizes that part of that world view must examine structural unfairness, whether that be through gender roles, heteronormative assumptions, the remainder of the subconscious patriarchy we all have mapped out in our brains, or racist and classist thinking. I lump all of those together into my identity as a feminist. I believe that the way our society is set up still has barriers for people who are not in the dominant group (white, straight, Christian men), and constrains those in the dominant group. This is probably the most misunderstood component of feminism. Feminism does not claim that patriarchy and inequity or inequality are perpetuated by men on women, but rather perpetuated by us all on everyone, including ourselves, and that therefore we are all capable of lessening or eliminating these barriers and inequities by things we do, say and think every day. This is hardly making ourselves victims, is it?

Sarah Palin and other conservatives see the world as black and white, but more than that, they are incredibly narcissistic in its true meaning–self-focused. They believe their experience is the only valid one. Personally, I think this is ridiculous. We all have different experiences, and though I think everyone is entitled to their opinion, I believe enforcing their opinion on me (removing my choice about what to do with my body, including who I can have sex with when and whether I can end a pregnancy based upon the knowledge I have about my life and ability not only to raise a child but to carry a fetus to term in my own body).

I am actually I think personally in some aspects pretty “conservative” or traditional. I like to follow rules. I think structure promotes order and progress. But I also believe that I can be wrong, and I can especially be wrong in making decisions for other people about their lives.

To me, this is ultimately what I mean when I identify myself as feminist. I think sex is not scary, and actually the more I learn about STDs, the less scary sex becomes. Not that condoms are great (yay! Condoms!!), and it would behoove of in our society to encourage fewer sexual partners, which I think Europe proves is possible through actually encouraging intimacy in teenage relationships and accepting teen sexuality as a truth instead of teaching kids to wait until they’re marries or date multiple people because it’s just puppy love. Sexuality in America is about men and domination. One description I heard of homophobic heterosexual sex explained that these men compete about their sexual prowess with other men (I gave her so much pleasure, more than you), and this, while giving lip service to women’s pleasure, actually is extremely male-focused–it gives men credit for women’s pleasure. I’ve always been uncomfortable with men talking about how much pleasure they’re able to give, and this gave shape to my discomfort, because it doesn’t matter who the woman is, just that the man has the ability to pleasure x-woman, who is entirely interchangeable.

So there you have it. Feminism. Real, true, sex-positive feminism. Please disseminate this information. 😀

A-holes

So here’s a fun story. And a true one. This morning I was walking into work, which I generally do with headphones in, this morning listening to an audio-book of “Game Change,” which is about the 2008 elections (lots of fun, btw), so I was particularly engrossed, and as I’m about to turn into the building, these two dudes point behind me, like I’ve dropped something. So I look behind me, nothing there. I turn back to them and they’re insistently pointing. I take out my earbud and ask what they’re talking about. One of them says they lost their heart right there (where they’re pointing). At which point I roll my eyes and purse my lips, continue walking and feel like an idiot. Has New York taught me nothing??! Haha.

But, really, I’ve had a couple incidents recently of guys really dumbly hitting on me, this being one of them, and the other with a woman I’m doing economic surveys with. We were in Queens last weekend, and this group of guys was taking advantage of our openness to communication because of the survey. And so we talked a bit about why men in Latino countries (particularly, though really this could apply anywhere, in any culture) when they know it won’t get them anything tangible (specifically, they won’t get laid because they call me “Mami” or mention how sexy I am on the street). And I mentioned to her that I thought it was actually way more about intimidation and control. And I realized that’s so true. (I agree with myself!!) but really. True and upsetting. There’s no real advantage to cat-calling, except for the very real boost of feeling momentarily more powerful than the woman you’ve just (hopefully?) intimidated. And this is when I realize that (I know I’m about to walk off a feminist cliff, but bare with me) this is a component of rape culture. Because, as anyone who knows anything about rape knows, rape is about power and control, not sex. Sounding familiar??

I am super disturbed by this, and also frustrated about how to react. If I ignore these dumb people, I feel like maybe that helps a little. If I have any real kind of reaction, that seems to just reinforce the behavior, even if the reaction is rude or mean. Part of me wants to intimidate THEM, but really that, too, isn’t helpful, because the whole thing comes from a place of feeling powerless (I think) themselves, so I actually don’t want to do anything to exacerbate that feeling.

Maybe there’s nothing I can do. Maybe I should talk to them like normal human beings, so that they can see that I, too, am a normal human being. That I can have a conversation and am not merely an object in their game to halt their own insecurity. Anyway. Ranty, yes. But something that’s been on my mind.

Sleepless Ranting

I am trying to get to sleep, which I’ve been a bit better about recently, but I am kept awake by the ranting going on in my head, so I’ll type it out and hopefully this will allow me some peaceful sleep.

This is, in fact, an addendum to my most recent post, The REAL Rules, in which I discuss some of the more ridiculous things people say in online personals. But this is just seriously incredible; awesomely ridiculous. This guy wrote me a nice little message, saying I’d caught his eye and whatever. So I wrote him back requesting that he write a bit more, as his profile essays are blank (this should have been red flag number 1; ignored). I am trying to give people the benefit of the doubt. Evidently this is a mistake. So this dude writes me back a very nice, extensive message that was pretty interesting, mostly grammatically sound, etc etc. He sounded thoughtful, intelligent, and aside from his being born in a certain country that will not be named from which I have known 3 men, 2 of whom ripped my heart to shreds, there seemed to be no more red flags. Until at the very end of this long and decent message falls this line:

oh and i have to say it makes me a little nervous that you work with HIV patients, does it make me a bad person? i think my preoccupation is reasonable.

BOOM. WHAT. THE. EFF?? There are several things wrong with this. I’m going to go with the simple first–preoccupation: an extreme or excessive concern with something. Really? As in, you are preoccupied by the fact that I work with HIV positive patients, meaning that you are concerned about how this could impact our nonexistent relationship? I suppose it is a valid use of the word, but it seems excessive. Which is why I’m upset about the rest of it. Here are some potential responses:
  • Not sure I would consider entering into a sexual relationship with someone so incredibly uninformed about how STIs are transmitted.
  • Actually, I work with HIV positive patients because I am HIV positive…JK, but that sinking, disgusted feeling you just got? Yeah, that’s why I’d never date you.
  • Um, well considering that I neither share needles nor have unprotected sex with anyone, much less my patients, my risk of contracting HIV is pretty low.
Please feel free to add more.
I am so upset by this, partly on behalf of the really interesting, amazing folks I’ve met who happen to be HIV positive. For one thing, it is not a death sentence. Period. The patients I know who take care of themselves are healthy and many have lived 10, 15 years with the diagnosis. It is a chronic health issue, just as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol are. It just happens to be transmitted, sexually. I’m disgusted (and also a little confused) about why this guy is worried–does he honestly not know how HIV is transmitted? And if he does, does he really think I’m at risk because I’m around people who are HIV positive?! For one thing, HIV is actually a pretty difficult virus to catch, if you’re taking precautions (read: not using IV drugs and using condoms when having sex). The only reason it is still an issue is because people refuse to take condoms seriously and because they have the attitude (and knowledge) of this guy, coupled with the idea that you can tell someone is positive. Which, I can tell you from meetings many dozens of people who are positive, you cannot. They come in all shapes, sizes, socio-economic class, ethnicity. Which is why EVERYONE should protect themselves! It ain’t difficult. Testing + condoms = HIV negative. People are so scared of this virus that they plug their ears when learning about it. But education is key. Like I say, it is not an easy virus to catch. I’d be a lot more worried about Hep B if I hadn’t been vaccinated. Which since this guy grew up in the unnamed country, he may not have been vaccinated against. And likelihood he’s heard of that? Quite low.
I’m totally split in this case between writing a little education STI transmission lesson, bitching him out, or ignoring it (this is like a fuschia flag though, right??). Who am I to judge? Perhaps he has never been interested in STIs and health. Maybe he just doesn’t care. I guess that’s the problem I have–people think they can ignore this stuff, just float through life without their ignorance being a problem. But it is. This is something that affects us all. And in my opinion (because you asked), no one who doesn’t generally understand the basics of STI transmission has any business having sex. Unfortunately that isn’t my call.
Maybe I’m reading this wrong. Maybe he’s worried about me? Like, he thinks it is a stressful environment and it is emotionally draining? He is nervous that in our perhaps relationship he will have to emotionally support me through tough times dealing with difficult patients? But he does say he’s nervous. I’m just still confused about what he is nervous about–that I will have HIV because I’m around people with it? That is just so…ignorant and sad. As I say, on behalf of my patients, I am livid. And he questions whether he is a bad person. To that, I answer, dude–you are not a bad person, you are uninformed. And I would like you to be informed. I would not like you to be my sex partner, due to your uninformedness. kthxbai!

The REAL Rules

So I have been on several dating websites over the past 2 years. I’ve met some interesting people, most of whom I never interacted with again, but a couple with whom I’ve stayed in touch, and I do still believe it might be possible to meet someone on one that I would actually want to date. I’ve never been particularly aggressive about it, but rather seen it as a way to expand my horizon in terms of meeting new interesting people who I would never meet under other circumstances. Firstly, I’d like to say that I think I have vastly overestimated the number of awesome people in the world. Probably because I’m from Chapel Hill. There is just a much smaller percentage of awesomeness everywhere else. I’m a little biased, perhaps, but I do think that there’s something about CH…something that attracts interesting, intelligent, fun, funny, talented people. It’s probably UNC. But other places have universities, and lots of lame people go to UNC, so I don’t know.

Anyway, none of this is the point and I’m getting really rant-y (excited about my interview tomorrow!!!). I just came across a profile one one of said dating websites where someone posted a picture with the caption, “Me and my girlfriend in 2006.” Now, it’s fine that you had a girlfriend in 2006. But let’s be serious, rule number 1 of dating websites is NOT to post pictures of you with a girlfriend. That’s just stupid. Right? I kind of can’t believe it. But it also made me think about some of the other weird things people have said in their profiles/messages to me. The other day, I received a message entitled “I’m confused…” and containing the message “are you shy or something?” I have no idea WTF this guy was talking about. I think I’m pretty upbeat/open/not shy in my profile essays. And pictures. It’s weird. And then this other guy recently sent me a message entitled “Hi”:

hey whats up my name is [insert name] im 26 just got out the military looking for cool new friends i believe everything starts with a friendship. I seen ur profile i think ur a fun outgoing person and would like to get to know you better i love to dance and enjoy the outdoors what are some things you like to do for fun ?well hope to here from you bye P.S cute pics whats ur nationality?

Seriously?? I mean, I admit it’s kinda sweet, but PROOFREAD, people! It’s like a 6 year old could have written this. And his profile was lots of caps (though not entirely, which is just…weirder) and similarly mis-spelled (I have this special place on my hate list for “u” instead of “you” or “ur” instead of “your” or “you’re.” Additionally, this young man is unfamiliar with correct conjugation, and likes to point out the obvious–“I seen ur profile” is the most offensive line to me. Of course you HAVE seen my profile. Also can you not add two letters to “ur” to make it correct?? Is it that much trouble? Maybe some periods and capitalization while you’re at it. The nationality think is kind of a cool question, but I said I was white…I’m just kind of wondering what nationality he suspects I am, and also if he knows the definition of nationality, instead of perhaps heritage. But I’ll let that one slide). Also, we’re 33% of a match, based on how we’ve answered a bunch of questions about what we want in relationships and our values. What makes you think I would like you, or even respond?? Just as that dude who wrote me the previous message, I’m confused.

I could go on about the 20 or so guys I’ve met in person, too, but overall, they were not so bad, there was just no connection. Or they seemed…scared? of me.

I will say, on the plus side, I’ve gotten to meet lots of people who are in their own ways, quite interesting and as I said, I never would have met. Maybe for the best, but I think it’s been a good way to spend some time. And I don’t actually feel like my online dating luck has been any worse than my in-life dating luck. In fact, I think in some ways it’s been more worthwhile. In real life, I’ve had some weird dating shit happen to me as well. I guess my point in all of this is to give a shout-out to internet dating. At some point, I’ll probably write a bit more. As for now, I just wanted to mostly share about that guy and his girlfriend picture, just as an example of how naive people can be about what “works,” just in life in general. I’m consistently astonished at peoples’ idiocy. But whatever. I’m learning to deal.

The Princess and the Frog Review

I was super excited to see The Princess and the Frog, and knowing I was gonna be in Chapel Hill, where my little sister, Ellie, is, my father and Patricia, Ellie’s mom, and I decided to go. So we went this afternoon, and my overall review is “YES!” it was actually a decent movie–funny, good songs, beautiful classic Disney drawings, an empowered female lead, variety in races (and inter-racial/cultural dating) but not a lot of outward focus on it and loving fathers who support their daughters emotionally.

Tiana is the main character. A lot of focus has been put on her race (she’s black, if you hadn’t heard), but the film doesn’t outright address this, which I actually think is quite progressive. She is clearly lower class, and it is evident that her neighborhood is black and poor; the family her mother sews fo is white and rich. But there are others who are both white and black who populate the New Orleans landscape and who are not obviously poor nor rich, which I think is somewhat accurate/realistic. So race-wise, I actually found it appropriate (it is set in the past). Also, the father of Charlotte, the rich white girl for whom Tiana’s mother sews sparkly princess dresses, is respectful towards Tiana’s mother. I also like that Charlotte, despite being white and rich, while sometimes oblivious to the woes of Tiana’s life, is at her core supportive and not out to get her–she is a decent person, unlike, say, the evil stepsisters in Cinderella. So in terms of how the film portrays and deals with both class and race, I actually am quite impressed.

The main relationship, between Tiana and Prince Naveen, is one that is both inter-racial and inter-cultural (he’s the prince of Macedavia or something?), which isn’t even spoken addressed as a problem to deal with. Prince Naveen is also a potential suitor for Charlotte, which is interesting–that this man of unidentified race could marry either a black or white woman I think is great.

In terms of strong female leads, I definitely think this film ranks #1 of Disney films. Tiana is sure of herself, has dreams that she’s working hard to fulfill (and which she was encouraged to work hard to obtain by her father), but still is open to romance. I love all of this. There’s also a point when Prince Naveen realizes he loves Tiana but he is willing to let her go if he can help her acheive her dream of opening a resaurant. Brilliant! I actually think this is my favorite component of the movie, precisely because the biggest issue I had with a story like the Little Mermaid is that Ariel had to give up her voice, family and species to fulfill her romantic destiny, which is just disturbing. Tiana gets a man who supports her in getting what she wants.

I am really relieved by seeing the movie–it gives me hope for this generation of young people both in terms of race/class and also romantic relationships, and I am delighted to have a fun children’s movie that I wouldn’t feel bad about showing my kids, with a message that luck and hard work are what it takes to get ahead in life. So, I find myself saying, well done, Disney. I admit I’m a little surprised. But pleasantly.

Let’s All Be Human(e)!

I want to first give a little disclaimer–this is really long and kind of rant-y. Maybe at some point I’ll clean it up. Who knows. But I would love to hear feedback.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about gender roles, relationships, how we should related to one another; all of that stuff. Firstly, I want to express my outrage at this crazy woman, Kay Hymowitz, who thinks that we should all go back to men and women behaving as though we were trying to win some prize–marriage–instead of just relate and form partnerships with one another. I’m confused by this. I have read He’s Just Not That Into You and watched Sex and the City. I think I’ve experienced a lot of the cultural indoctrination of how relationships are supposed to be; here I’ll get a little personal–at the same time, I think my parents are sort of a-typical. My mother does have a bit more of a traditional bent on males than I do. I refuse to believe that men are really all that different than women. Obviously they have different anatomy, different hormones, which change the way they react to things emotionally perhaps, but all-in-all, I think both men and women are capable of being honest, rational, and communicative with each other. I think the Rules are stupid. I also recognize, however, that we are in a transitory phase of gender roles. Things are unclear (all the more reason to be communicative). So sometimes it is nice to just relax and let the typical gender roles drive things. I’m not totally averse to this but I do think it is something we should be aware of when we’re doing it. Ok I’m onto analyzing someone else’s argument.

Hymowitz wrote a piece previously about the whole concept of the child-man, and how men are putting off serious relationships because they’re basically too immature. She got all of these responses and explains:

Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.

So, right off the bat, I’m having issues with these men playing victim and claiming that “young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging.” I’m all about re-defining gender roles. I don’t think we should “diss” all things male. In fact, I am a huge proponent of men being able to be themselves instead of having to play into ANY stereotype at all. I’ll come back to this, because it is basically my problem with all of this–that any general statements can be made at all (that women are slutty, shallow gold-diggers, or that men are lazy, commitment-phobic child-men; either is ridiculous because some women may very well be slutty, shallow gold-diggers, and some men lazy, commitment-phobic child-men, but certainly not all of them) is sort of missing the point of relationships as I see them. To me, a relationship is a very individual thing–it is a partnership, a connected agreement betweent two people, not either person trying to manipulate the other into losing so that they win.

Hymowitz claims that the problem is that men are left wondering “what (or, as they might put it, WTF) women want.” Why don’t you ask them? That’s really all I can say. She claimst that men and women are mysteries to each other and that “one reason people developed so many rules around courtship was that they needed some way to bridge the Great Sexual Divide.” I’m so confused by this. Can we not speak to each other? Can we not ask each other what we want? Is our communication so hindered that we must rely upon the “traditional” rules of courtship? At least I agree with her on the point that men are “wooing” women who “are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.” But I do have a problem with the idea of “wooing.” Can’t women woo men? Isn’t that part of the equality? Is there really actually a problem with that? Why do we need the expectations?

Here is the real problem:

But then, when an SYM walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that. The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas. “I’ve gone through phases in my life where I bounce between serial monogamy, Very Serious Relationships and extremely casual sex,” writes Megan Carpentier on Jezebel, a popular website for young women. “I’ve slept next to guys on the first date, had sex on the first date, allowed no more than a cheek kiss, dispensed with the date-concept altogether after kissing the guy on the way to his car, fucked a couple of close friends and, more rarely, slept with a guy I didn’t care if I ever saw again.” Okay, wonders the ordinary guy with only middling psychic powers, which is it tonight?

This guy doesn’t need psychic powers, just those of communication. Ask this woman what she wants. I agree that this is pretty typical–what women want at any one time will vary from woman to woman and from time to time. Is this not also true of men? God forbid women be nuanced and complex human beings with different desires depending upon her position in life, or even how she’s feeling that day or week, how her other social connections are at the time. God forbid you have to ASK HER what she wants. That we have to be HONEST with each other about what we’re looking for.

Hymowitz says many women have “personal scripts” that they believe their date must follow. Once again, though there is this issue of communication. Here it’s the problem of women having some sort of expectation that she failst to communicate. I, as a human, cannot expect someone to do something so specific as opening a door when I have not expressed that this is important to me. Or at the very least, I do not think I should not fault them for not doing it unless I ask. I also take issue with the fact that people act as though everyone wants the same thing, and you’re wrong if you want something and someone doesn’t do it. If someone’s “idea of a date is that the man plans the evening and takes the woman out” and the guy you go out with doesn’t do this, don’t go out with him again! Or TELL him that and see how he responds. That will tell you a lot more about him relationally than if he had done what was expected of him from the beginning.

I understand that we have certain social expectations, and when they are changing it is challengeing because we do have to communicate in explicit ways that we are not used to. But I actually think that is a good thing; I think it makes fore a healthier relationship. But what is WRONG with this woman not liking the guy because he didn’t open the door for her? If that’s what she wants, the guy should find someone who doesn’t mind. Because there are plenty of women who do not care. He should be with one of those women. There is often this attitude (take people in the Bachelor/Bachelorette, for example) that you can win anyone over. That just does not make sense to me. While I don’t believe there’s The One, I believe there are various people who you will work with, but that that number is finite. No one can be a good match for everyone, and we shouldn’t expect to be. This is perfectly exemplified in the whole idea of the Game–as in men learning how to pick up any woman he wants because “women want alpha males, the Seduction Community agrees.” What??! How is this possibly true for ALL WOMEN?

So since all women want the same things, but it’s changing all the time, this is indecisive. Evidently men see women’s “indecisiveness” (I would see this a complex, nuanced personality with complex, nuanced desires as a positive thing, but whatever) as just too confusing, frustrating and therefore clearly it is just women being entitled.

Sure, girls can—and do—ask guys out for dinner and pick up the check without missing a beat. But that doesn’t clarify matters, men complain. Women can take a Chinese-menu approach to gender roles. They can be all “Let me pay for the movie tickets” on Friday night and “A single rose? That’s it?” on Valentine’s Day. This isn’t equality, say the male-contents; it’s a ratification of female privilege and, worse, caprice. “Women seemingly have decided that they want it all (and deserve it, too),” Kevin from Ann Arbor writes. “They want to compete equally, and have the privileges of their mother’s generation. They want the executive position, AND the ability to stay home with children and come back into the workplace at or beyond the position at which they left. They want the bad boy and the metrosexual.”

I do not condone women bitching about things that they haven’t talked about (the whole “A single rose? That’s it?” is a little whiny for my tastes). But wanting to be able to stay home with your kids when they’re young and then return to working is not entitled–it’s what BOTH men and women should be able to do. I’m not sure about this “bad boy and the metrosexual” stuff, because I think it’s weird to have some sort of “type” that you’re looking for in the longterm. But I do think it’s funny. But women DO deserve it. We all do–men AND women. What these men fail to realize is that the traditional script of relationships fails both men and women. At least that’s what I think.

Next, Hymowitz goes on about how women want bad boys. This is just too ridiculous to respond too much to, but here’s what I think: men interperet groveling at a women’s feet as being a “nice guy.” So no, don’t worship me–treat me like a person who you respect. And maybe some of us “want” bad boys because we’re just so used to being treated as an object–either one men adore or admonish–which makes us expect to be treated that way. I think a lot of guys’ ideas of the “nice guy” are actually just the flip side to the “bad boy” coin. Let’s treat each other as fellow human beings. I think that will work best.

But this brings Hymowitz to her thesis–that men are forced into a position of becoming a pick-up artist because women are just so confusing, men need to write their own new rules. These rules are based on Darwin–natural selection. And women like alpha men. These men don’t have to respect women because they can “get laid anytime [they] want.” And now I’m confused because I thought this article was about love. Evidently, men are really uncomplicated–all they want is sex. Hymowitz goes on to talk about this newly developed attitude towards “dating” (I use the term lightly), which I just refuse to go into more in-depth because it is so inhumane.

That is the real problem I have with all of this–as I keep saying, there is a lack of nuance, or recognition that we all need connections to other human beings. Men need them. Women need them. None of us is perfect, but if we were more honest and upfront about things, I think we would be a lot better off. This is the easy way out–to just look for sex, to treat the other gender as a commodity to be “had” instead of people to relate to. But we lose so much when we fail to recognize and comfort other’s vulnerabilities, as well as share our own.

Thank god there are men like Will Wilkinson. His response argues that

annoyances and disappointments suffered in the process of realizing fundamental conditions of a decent society don’t call into question the desirability of those conditions. All this vexation is a very, very small price to pay for equality. For men, it is a very, very small price to pay for the opportunity to share a life with a peer, a full partner, rather than with a woman limited by convention and straitened opportunity to a more circumscribed and subordinate role in life. Sexual equality has created the possibility of greater exactness and complementarity in matching women to men. That is, in my book, a huge gain to men. But equality does raise expectations for love and marriage. The prospect of finding a true partner, rather than someone to satisfactorily perform the generic role of husband or wife, leaves many of us single and searching for a good long time. But this isn’t about delaying adulthood, it’s about meeting higher standards for what marriage and family should be.

That is what I thought! And he rightly points out that “many men aren’t angry and confused because they don’t know what women want. They’re angry because they want what their fathers or grandfathers had, and they can’t get it. They’re confused because they can’t quite grasp why not.” I also appreciate that Wilkinson recognizes gay culture as a place to look for some guidance because it offers “a wide variety of templates for manhood that are at once unmistakably masculine, playfully ironic, aesthetic, emotionally open, and happily sexual.” I have found this as well, as a heterosexual female. But for real–it’d be great if we could all just be human beings, treating each other as equal people. Really, isn’t that what relationships are all about?

Love in the Time of Darwinism [City Journal]
The “Menaissance” and Its Dickscontents [Will Wilkinson]
Is There Anything Good About Men? [American Psychological Association Presentation]