It feels good to be blogging again, let me tell you. It’s like that first leg shave after a long, cold winter. Or that first ridiculous news item about women that caught your eye after taking a break from ridiculous news about women. (But does one ever take a break from that?)
Before my pseudo-hiatus I had a long exchange with Sacrucensis about who gets to decide what’s up with the cell-clusters that sometimes form after hetero sexytime. I’m quite proud of the exchange! Here’s why.
It was civil. It was thoughtful. It was respectful.
And check it out: We both quickly got down to the business underlying the fuss about embryonic cell clusters. The business of women having sex.
Should they have sex? When? With whom?
Should men be subject to the same expectations?
If women have sex outside of cultural (religious? family? community?) expectations, should they be punished? Should men be punished differently? Less? More?
Not that pregnancy is punishment. But unwanted pregnancy, forced by the state to be carried to term, is an extreme hardship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So read those comments. We were pretty much talking about that. About women having sex.
Sacrucensis, a Catholic priest in Austria, believes that men and women would be happier and closer to their divine purpose if they limit their sexuality to procreation while committed in marriage. Fair enough. Lots of people believe that.
But in the US, you don’t get to legislate belief. And also, this particular belief is pretty much not practiced by anyone. I mean, there’s a movement and all. But evidence shows that the chastity and abstinence-only ed movements produce more STDs than actual abstinence.
Once women could get a pill from the doc, like it or not, many many many started postponing childbirth till they could be sure that the child would have a chance at a decent life. I believe that’s awesome. Strictly religious people may not. But it doesn’t matter because people like to have sex. And they have sex. And in many cases, they get to choose when to bring life into this world. To me, controlling when one brings life into the world cherishes and honors life. I get that pro-life people disagree, but this is a source of frustration in the abortion rights discourse. Just sayin.
In any case, this whole discussion (plus then Ta-Nehisi Coates making a cold point about Savita Halappanavar’s preventable death: that if you believe abortion is murder, you would go ahead prevent that murder, no matter what it does to the mother) led me to wonder: is it possible to believe both in full women’s liberation, including sexual liberation, and the status as human of that embryonic cell cluster?
Does anyone believe in both?
Joe Biden seems to. Or at least, that his personal beliefs about that cell cluster’s status should not be legislated across the country. But that’s grey, isn’t it?
For me, women’s rights came first, then came the realization that I don’t think of that cell cluster as a person. Perhaps when the fetus can live on its own, outside the mother? With the support of contemporary medical technology? Is it a person then? I guess? Because then it’s still not self-supporting. But full term babies aren’t self-supporting either. It’s a whole mishugas, really, because not even fully growned humans are self-supporting, independent entities if you think about the microbiome (and I can’t stop thinking about the microbiome.) So where do you say boom, life started? I dunno. But it doesn’t matter as much to me as giving women the legal right to choose what happens to their bodies.
Anyway, remarkable, to me, about this debate in comments with my Wallace-l friend: Discussion of women’s sexuality completely dominated our comments about abortion rights, despite the fact that Sacrucensis probably believes that conception equals life, which is probably far more of a driver for him than his beliefs about when and how and with whom women should be getting it on. I’m just guessing.
And then I read this piece in the American Prospect, reacting to Douthat’s recent anxiety about US birthrates (so much male anxiety about women’s bodies! Seriously! And I wonder if Douthat wants high birthrates across the board or just among the wealthy, which isn’t meant as a personal slur as much as an observation of what kinds of moms are praised and what kinds are judged for their pregnancies…) and the royal fetus making Kate so very sick, and what child-rearing is like for those of us attempting to attain and maintain economic stability.
EJ Graff’s reminder about the reality of parenting:
Having another child is hard financially. “Hardship” isn’t the difference between a new car and a new child; “hardship” means clothing, housing, schooling, and transporting their children. It’s nearly impossible for middle-class families to stay middle class on just one income—has Douthat seen any of those statistics about middle-class wage stagnation compared to the skyrocketing income for the 1 percent? Yet work and school are set up on precisely contrasting schedules, with workers expected to be wired in endlessly while their children still go to school in the dark, right after milking time, get home in time to work in the fields, and are off all summer to help with the harvest. When the vast majority of children are growing up in families where all adults are in the workforce, why does our country leave every working family to figure that mismatch out alone?
Things are still worse for the 50 percent of American workers who have no paid sick time and are much less able to take time off to care for a sick child, to come in late or leave early for parent-teacher conferences, or to head out to hear the little ones warbling in the winter concert. Taking three days off to care for a hospitalized child might well lead to a mother losing her job.
So one could say dude, if you don’t want kids, don’t have sex.
But who would you be talking to? And who would respond, um, Yeah! I’m 30 and I haven’t met the person I want to marry so I’ll continue to repress this really important part of my identity and sense of self so that I can conform to these ancient models of behavior that were developed before condoms and hormonal contraceptives, and that were developed mostly to maintain women’s status as chattel!
And who would look at a nation of 18 year olds and say you know, I get that you want to have sex, but you can’t do it till marriage so get married! Right now! And have babies! Right now!
Because when you do that, who gets to leave the house and earn a living and develop a career, colleagues, and an independent identity? And who gets to stay home deodorizing excretions and not getting an education or career training or friends outside a circle of mothers who may model other ways of living in the world?
I’m saying that as social policy, no sex till marriage is pretty limiting. Not to mention egregiously harmful to the health of our children.
And the feeling I get from Sacrucensis’s comments, and the writers he excerpted, is one of nostalgic sorrow. Sorrow for the loss of some kind of ideal sexuality. Which, as far as I can tell, never really happened. There was always sex outside of marriage, which itself, till very recently, was an economic exchange above all. Women still get sold into marriage, quite literally. I know we can all agree that’s wrong. And we can agree that sexual objectification of women is wrong. But while I think that the anti-abortion movement sexually objectifies women more than any other contemporary political agenda, I suspect that Sacrucensis believes the opposite.
The moral: Abortion law is about women. It’s not about almost-babies. It’s not about men. It’s about women.
I’m all for the comfort that religion provides to people. I wouldn’t even call myself secular, despite my affiliation with liberal feminism, higher ed, and data-driven policy. But here, we don’t legislate religion. Which is pretty much the best thing about our country.
And if we did, I deeply fear what would happen.