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Posts Tagged ‘Rick Santorum’

Everyone else seems to be. They’re talking about women and sex and “Girls” and sex and feminism and sex and HBO and sex and the sexual revolution as failure and the sexual revolution as success.

It feels a little weird to be writing this, honestly, being that it’s 2012 and all. But with whom and where and how and how often women are doing it remains a hot topic. As it should. Sex, after all, is hot. And our sex lives are as integral to who we are as our professional lives — and collectively, every bit as much of a barometer as to what’s going on with women as salary surveys and graduation rates and polls about who’s doing the housework.

Of course, as is generally the case in discussions about women, women and our changing place in the world, and/or women and sex, there lurks just the faintest whiff of  judgment. In a piece entitled “The Bleaker Sex” in Sunday’s New York Times, Frank Bruni takes to the Opinion pages with his thoughts on Lena Dunham’s upcoming HBO series “Girls”:

The first time you see Lena Dunham’s character having sex in the new HBO series “Girls,” her back is to her boyfriend, who seems to regard her as an inconveniently loquacious halfway point between partner and prop, and her concern is whether she’s correctly following instructions…

You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of “Girls” engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this? Salaries may be better than in decades past and the cabinet and Congress less choked with testosterone. But in the bedroom? What’s happening there remains something of a muddle, if not something of a mess…

In a recent interview, presented in more detail on my Times blog, she told me that various cultural cues exhort her and her female peers to approach sex in an ostensibly ‘empowered’ way that she couldn’t quite manage. “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.”

First, not so fast, Bruni: while salaries may be better and Congress less choked, the numbers are still far from impressive. While clearly we have made progress on those fronts, I challenge anyone to make the case the work’s been done, equality achieved. The numbers certainly indicate otherwise, as we’ve pointed out from time to time.

Now to the sex: While yes, I’ll give you that sexual scenes painted in this and other previews of “Girls” (I haven’t seen it; the show premieres on April 15) do indeed indicate a bit of a muddle, if not a mess, I don’t see that as problematic. On the contrary: I’d argue said muddle makes perfect sense. And I’ll raise you one: I think said muddle is an apt metaphor for what women are going through in every realm.

Women today are raised on empowering messages: from the time we’re little, we’re told girls can do anything boys can do. (As we should be.) We come of age in the relatively safe, comfortable confines of school, believing in this message and in its natural conclusion–that feminism‘s work if over, its battles won. So too do we believe in the natural conclusion of that other message–that “girls can do anything boys can do” also means that we should do things the way they do.

And then, buoyed by the beliefs that feminism is old news and that men and women are not only equal but basically the same, we smack up against the realities of the real world: the judgments, the biases, the roles that don’t fit, the obstacles to changing them. The inequities. The shoulds. And we think there must be something wrong with us–that we’re alone in the muddle. When the reality is that the world still has not caught up to the messaging we’re fed, nor does the messaging necessarily have it right. Women are wandering uncharted territory. And, without a map, everything looks a muddle. We’re feeling our way through.

As Hanna Rosin wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal,

The lingering ambivalence about sexuality is linked, I think, to women’s lingering ambivalence about the confusing array of identities available to them in modern life.

Exactly (and I’m not just saying that cuz I wrote an entire book about it). The doors have opened, but the trails have yet to be cleared.

And then, of course, there’s this (I can only imagine the backlash I’m gonna take for this one, but I’m gonna say it anyway, because I make the point often in the context of work): women and men are different. There’s neurobiology and all kinds of research to support this idea–and yet, it’s an idea that’s traditionally been seen as dangerous. And it’s seen as most dangerous by women: the worry being that to say that men and women are different, we do things differently, we experience things differently, must necessarily mean that one way is better, one’s worse. As though to claim a difference would be to set us off on a slippery slope of regression, inevitably sliding right back onto Betty Draper’s miserable, unempowered couch. Or as though to recognize a difference is to divide everyone into two overly simplified extremes, opposite ends of a spectrum–men are dogs and women just want to be monogamous. People are too complex for generalizations (generally speaking). So I guess my real question is this: Why is sex without feeling anything the goal? What exactly are we aspiring to there? Who decided that’s what empowerment looks like?

I mean, isn’t feeling something kind of the fun of sex?

And back to those messages: isn’t it ironic that women today are raised on the message that it is their right (hell, their responsibility) to (enthusiastically!) embrace their sexuality–and that one’s sexuality is indeed one’s own for the embracing–even while this very notion is again (still!) under attack? Not only is our sexual and reproductive freedom–the freedom to express our sexuality outside the confines of marriage without threat of banishment (let alone death by stoning, a freedom not shared by many women walking the earth) or biology–staggeringly new, it’s tenuous. Something we’re raised to take as a given is something that still needs fierce defending. Every step we take, we battle anew.

It’s tempting to buy into the idea that the fight is over, as tempting as it is to put a cheery, tidy spin on what came before. In that piece of Rosin’s that I mentioned earlier, she refers to the success of the sexual revolution, attributing it to, among others, “sex goddess Erica Jong.” Jong penned a response at The Daily Beast, which she kicked off with a quick anecdote and the line, “That was the way we weren’t.” Here’s a bit from her piece:

Of course I was delighted to be called a sex-goddess and bracketed with Dr. Ruth Westheiner, whom I adore, but when Rosin said the ’70s were all about the sexual revolution and that the sexual revolution was one of the props of women’s current success, I felt a chill run down my spine. ‘Dear Hanna-you just don’t get it,’ I wanted to say. ‘If only you’d lived through some of the things I have–being trashed as the happy hooker of literature, being overlooked for professorships, prizes, and front-page reviews because it was assumed I was–’tis a pity–a whore, you might see things differently. And then, if having lived through that, the pundits now said you were rather tame, you might wonder whether women could ever be seen for what we are: sexual and intellectual, sweet and bitter, smart and sexy. But I am grateful to be a sex goddess all the same.’

…As a young and even middle-aged writer, I used to attend pro-choice rallies with GOP women. No more. Will my daughter’s generation now believe that feminism, like democracy, has to be fought for over and over again? We cannot be complacent about birth control, abortion, the vote, or our daughters’ and granddaughters’ future. Just when things look rosiest for women, a new Rick Santorum will be waiting in the wings. And his wife recruited to put a new spin on his misogyny. Just when colleges graduate more women than men, and women are beginning to be paid a little more than a pittance, the press and publishers trot out female quislings to announce that the woman “problem” has been solved. Rubbish.

The fight goes on. There’s plenty to battle against. So again, that muddle? Seems pretty clear to me.

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With the recent rise of Republican Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucuses, we’re sure to hear a couple of words again and again as the right-wing’s quest to rebuild America continues:

Family. Values.

I can’t help but cringe every time I hear that catchphrase.  Not because I dislike families – I have a terrific one of my own, thank you very much – but because I have to wonder WHOSE families those wingnuts are talking about.  Why did they get to appropriate the phrase?

What I also wonder is this: Why is the word “family” code for a lot of social conservative dogma that is not only irrelevant to what raising a real family is all about, but more importantly, leaves women – who do the bulk of that raising – out in the cold?

In the interests of real family values, I vote that we reclaim the term for ourselves.

But back to Santorum, whose message apparently resonated so well in Iowa:  Let’s start with reproductive rights, wherein Mr. Santorum goes way beyond the pro-life position by suggesting that contraception itself is a dangerous practice — whether you’re married or, God forbid, single.  As reported on ThinkProgress, Santorum told CaffeinatedThoughts editor Shane Vander Hart,“[contraception] is not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”  How things are supposed to be, he said, is for the purpose of procreation.  Here’s the video.

An extreme position?  Not completely.  You may recall that many conservatives in Congress recently voted to defund Planned Parenthood even though abortions only make up 10 percent of the services it provides to women without other means of health care, and that abortion services receive no federal funding.  And here’s the irony:  As the Guttmacher Institute points out:

Publicly funded family planning services help women to avoid pregnancies they do not want and to plan pregnancies they do. In 2006, these services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions

Access to contraception is also an issue of women’s health. Here in the U.S., the Institute of Medicine recently came out with guidelines that urge health insurance under President Obama’s health care overhaul to include FDA approved contraception as preventative care.  Why? Proper spacing of pregnancies can prevent a host of serious health risks for both mother and child.

And while we’re at it, here’s another case in point: the Affordable Care Act, which Santorum and the rest of those family values folks want to repeal. Let’s review. Who suffered most under our health care system of old? Women. And when women suffer, it’s often the kids who pay the price. So much for those family values.  Lest you forget how our old health care system affected women: pregnancy was a pre-existing condition.  Women, especially when they have kids, are statistically more likely to work part time jobs that do not provide health benefits — which is fine so long as they can depend on a well-employed husband for job-related health insurance.  But what if he loses his job?  Or what happens to the kids if mom happens to be single?  (Oh, that’s right.  Family values don’t apply to single mothers.)

There’s even something more basic when it comes to so-called family values: putting food on the table, and for the majority of the 99 percenters, this has become an ever-more difficult proposition. While it would be ever so Norman Rockwell for every family to have a mom (or, hello, a dad) at home with the kids, where in this economy is that even feasible (that is, if mom and dad are lucky enough to have jobs)?  As HuffPost blogger Dan Bimrose notes over there on the politics page:

A Rick Santorum candidacy would be a family values candidacy. The family unit is extremely important to working class America. It is to these working class voters he was addressing and referring to when he said:

“They share our values about faith and family. They understand that when the family breaks down, the economy struggles. They understand when families aren’t there to instill values into their children and into their neighbors as Little League coaches, as good neighbors, of fathers and mothers being part of a community, that the neighborhood is not safe and they are not free…”

The implication is that the Democrats are responsible for broken families. If the breaking up of American families is truly the cause of our economic failures, which is an incredibly weak argument, he may want to point his finger at Republicans like himself.

What he fails to mention is that the reason that the parents are not there to instill values into their children and coach their baseball teams is because those mothers and fathers are working their ass off. While Republican governors such as the likely former candidate for President Rick Perry seek praise for their ability to create minimum wage jobs, the people working those jobs realize they simply do not pay the bills. They need two of these jobs and their wives need one and none of them provide adequate health care.

And how about the fact that women still make 77 cents to a man’s buck? Or the fact that for many women — the ones working to help put that food on the table — affordable child care is nothing but a pipe dream because as a society, we’ve never made it a priority? And what happens to the kids when neither mom nor dad can find a job, or if they do find one, it only pays minimum wage?  And yet: the same folks who hold up the sanctity of the family are often the ones who vote to dismantle social welfare programs like Medicaid or food stamps.  Or vote against extending unemployment benefits.

The so-called family values folks would also have us believe that gay marriage threatens not only the social fabric of our nation, but our own marriages as well. Really? Exactly how does that work?

The list goes on, mainly arguments of privilege. But then, if you’ve ever been part of a family, you probably get it.  Maybe prayer in school, opposition to gay marriage, and blowing up the safety net are the kinds of values that made your family strong.  But I seriously doubt it.  If the health of the American family is what we’re after, the values that matter most are more along the lines of equal opportunity, access to good health care and quality education, and above all, an abiding sense of compassion.

On the other hand, I do agree with Santorum et al. on one thing.  The American family is indeed under attack.  The question is: by whom?

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