March 19, 2014
Despite having given up Facebook and excessive Internet surfing for Lent (sort of), I still managed to come across this video on the supposed “economics of sex.” Produced by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, the video (which has apparently gone viral) seeks to explain the reasons why marriage rates have declined in the US (and why the age of first marriage has gone up). Seeking to explain sex in terms of an economic metaphor, the video argues that women are the “gatekeepers” of sex given that (or so the video asserts) they do not want it as much as men do. “Sex in consensual relationships will happen when women want it to,” the video claims. It then goes on to state that “pricing” is what determines when a woman offers sex to a man – the price might be a few drinks and compliments at the bar, a month of dating, or, in some cases, the promise of a lifelong commitment in the form of marriage.
The video goes on to assert that, despite being the ones supposedly in control of this sexual economy, women do not have control over this “sexual economy”; individual women do not get to set the price. Artificial contraception, which allowed people to have sex without the consequences of pregnancy, drastically lowered the price of sex. “Don’t believe people who say your grandparents were secretly as casual about sex as your friends are,” the video’s voiceover asserts. “They weren’t. Because to mess around with sex eventually meant, well, becoming parents.” Comparing contraception to pesticides (which greatly increased food production with the unintended consequence of killing bees), the video asserts that the pill effectively made it possible for people to seek out sex without the commiting to marriage (and, by implication, the possibility of family life). The video argues that the “mating market” is now split into two “one corner where people are largely pursuing sex” and “another corner where people are largely pursuing marriage.” According to the makers of the video, the sex-seekers’ corner is dominated by men, the marriage-seekers’ by women. Therefore, women hoping to find a serious mate willing to make a lifelong commitment to them are, unfortunately, at a serious disadvantage. The issue is one of supply and demand. Since women outnumber men in this market, men call the shots.
It’s pretty easy to see why this video went viral. Feminist writers such as Christina Sterbenz of Business Insider were quick to refute this video’s claims. “Despite a cutesy veneer, [the video is] bursting with false and blatantly sexist claims, like the ideas that men want sex more, women want marriage more, and the decline of marriage rates will destroy the world,” Sterbenz states. “Let me be clear, I’m not a new car, a gallon of milk, or a pricey pair of jeans. Labeling women (and men for that matter) as commodities ignores the complexity of human interaction.”
As a feminist, I am inclined to agree with this and other critiques of the video (such as this one at Jezebel.com. I have always been outraged by the suggestion that sex is basically a commodity that a woman gives a man – in exchange for money, a dinner out or even a wedding ring. What about women’s experience and pleasure? Sex, as I have always understood it, should be a unitive experience of intimacy in which both partners experience pleasure, closeness and joy.
On the other hand…I must admit that, on a purely emotional level, the video struck a chord with me. As an unmarried thirty-year-old woman who does hope to walk down an aisle some day, I can’t help but relate to some of the video’s arguments about the marriage markets. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed the proverbial male fear of commitment in a wide variety of forms. I’ve watched female friends and occasionally relatives engage in completely non-commital long-term sexual relationships with men for three, four, or (in the case of one of my cousins) twenty years waiting for him to put a ring on it… then suffer intense heartbreak when they finally realize that it isn’t going to happen. The fact that women must put up with this situation never ceases to make my blood boil.
As a Catholic, I am ambivalent toward my Church’s teaching on this matter. Personally, I believe that the Church has more important matters to focus on than what takes place in people’s bedrooms. As a firm believer in the rights of LGBTQTSA peoples, I simply cannot accept the Church’s teaching that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman; as a believer in the sanctity of all life on this planet (not just human life), I refuse to believe that sex must be procreative in order to be considered acceptable (when we live in a world that is arguably overpopulated already).
However, as a teenager taking in my abstinence-only sex education in my private Catholic high school, I dare to say that I was one of the few students in my class who took to heart the message that sex should be saved for marriage. My reasons were more pragmatic than anything else. At age sixteen I experienced my first love, and subsequently my first heartbreak. And I was devastated. I remember I stayed up crying all night…And I hadn’t even kissed this guy, much less had sex with him. We stayed friends afterwards, and for four years I desperately hoped that maybe he would change his mind about me and become the high school sweetheart who’d be my one and only (incidentally, he grew up to become a classic 21st century serial monogamist, so maybe I’m lucky he didn’t).
As an adult I have fallen in love twice more, and while one might think that adulthood would have inured me to heartbreak, the truth is that now breakups (or even the threat of them) are much more painful and difficult to overcome. The stakes are higher; time is going by. While I disagree with this arguably conservative and patriarchy-enforcing video’s assertion that all women want love more than they want sex, the simple truth is that I do.
As much as I am disgusted by the economic metaphor, the truth is that in my own life, I want to “set a high price for sex.” I don’t want to go to bed with a man on the third date (and be left desperately hoping that he’ll call me again). I don’t want to climb into bed each night next to someone whom I don’t know will still be sharing that bed with me in one year’s time, much less in our golden years. I’ve had those experiences, and the benefits of short-term pleasure have not measured up to the anxiety, loneliness, and heartbreak that they have brought me.
But the problem is that the culture we currently live in does not seem to have much room for the likes of me. I know that I am not the only woman (or, for that matter, the only man) who feels this way about sex; however, we seem to be something of a minority in the highly educated, politically liberal, hipster-ish social circles I’m part of. I can’t help but laugh when I imagine putting an ad on a popular dating site: “warmhearted liberal feminist academic seeks serious romantic relationship with intent to marry – please, no sex until after marriage.” While very traditionalist Catholics might be responsive to such an ad, I doubt I’d have much luck meeting someone whose interests and life goals complement my own. But then…I haven’t tried yet, have I?
February 25, 2014
Hi everyone! To those readers who have continued to follow my blog (despite my long absence) I offer my most sincere thanks. I am very sorry for not posting, especially when there is so much to talk about (Pope Francis’ letter on the Joy of the Gospel…Ukraine…Venezuela…human rights abuses and environmental destruction connected with the Sochi Olympics…)There really is so much indeed, and I promise to come back soon.
For now, I am simply going to share a short follow-up to the piece I posted in November. Shadeism – or discrimination based on skin colour within a given community – is a ramification of racism, imperialism, and in our present world, global capitalism. I recently completed an interview with Nayani Thiyagarajah, a Tamil-Canadian filmmaker who explores this issue. Please check it out…
November 21, 2013
I learned something new today. I vaguely recall being told as a child to learn something new everyday, and I find it does not often happen. Of course, like everyone else in our media-saturated society I take in plenty of information on a daily basis…But consuming information is not the same as learning. Today, I learned that the legacy of European colonialism is alive and well, all over the world. I learned that while here in North America the multinational Unilever markets itself by promoting “real beauty”(the Dove campaign), in lots of other places it’s telling people that to be attractive they have to be something other than what they are. But unfortunately, it’s not just multinational corporations spreading this message, but also family members and friends.
Watch this video. Some of you will be surprised. Others, I hope, will be able to find strength in knowing that you are not alone. We don’t need to give in to anyone who tells us that to be beautiful we must become other than we are.
As the Catholic Church awaits the election of our next pope, the Church has once again become the subject of considerable media attention. As churches continue to close, as the priest shortage increases, and as we acknowledge the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, more and more people are saying that the Church needs to change. One of these is Joanna Manning, a former nun who, after years of struggling to change the Church from within, eventually gave up and converted to the Anglican Church. You can read her story here:
I can certain empathize with Manning and others who have left Catholicism for Anglicanism. I can also empathize with the Roman Catholic Womenpriests who have been ordained within the Church (the first women priests were ordained illegally by male bishops sympathetic to the women’s ordination movement) and have suffered excommunication for their conviction. However, many questions follow from this discussion. The first question I would offer the author of this article would be to what extent the Church’s treatment of women really is the cause of Catholicism’s declining numbers (especially among the young). One comment on the article suggests that the decline Church membership is not particularly due to the hierarchy’s stance on social issues such as gay marriage, women’s ordination and contraception; rather, it is due to a general secularization taking place in the culture. In terms of qualitative, anecdotal evidence, I would argue that young people are leaving the pew behind for both of these reasons. I am wondering…to what extent are issues related?
My next question is…for those Catholics who want to reform the Church, what would the best strategy be? Joanna Manning and many others like her have their strategy – they vote with their feet. The Roman Catholic Womenpriests have their strategy, but unfortunately, their radical defiance of the Church’s rules threatens to alienate them not only from traditionalists, but also moderate Catholics who might be sympathetic to the cause but hesitate to defy the church authority so boldly. Some moderate Catholics have suggested, for example, that fighting for women’s access to participation in the deaconate might be a good first step (before fighting for full-blown ordination). This point also deserves further discussion and will be addressed in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, your comments are welcome!
December 22, 2012
A 30-minute interview with Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch and advocate for women’s ordination. It’s worth listening to this inspiring man’s powerful words.
September 30, 2011
I was raised by an ardently pro-life mother, and her influence on me was significant. As a teenager I accompanied her to Respect Life meetings and prayer vigils at our church, held a sign stating “Abortion Kills Children” at the annual Life Chain (a street protest commemorating the passing of the 1973 US Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States), and learned as much as I could about the issue. For a freshman bioethics project I researched all the grisly details of various abortion procedures, particularly intact dilation and extraction, and wrote an essay outlining all of the ethical problems I found there: primarily, that abortion involves inflicting excruciating pain on a defenseless human being.
One day, when I walked into the high school cafeteria, my pro-life button pinned to my collar, one of my more feisty classmates immediately rolled her eyes at me. “You’re pro-life? Really? Come on, Jeannine. What do you think you would do if you got pregnant?”
I stared at her, indignant. How could this little bitch even think – much less say – something like this about me? In all my fourteen years I’d barely talked to any boys, much less done anything else. I was a paragon of virtue. An example of perfect innocence. Needless to say, I was very, very sheltered for my fourteen years.
At that age I had no real awareness that not all fourteen-year-olds had the same kind of privilege. That in the world – in my country, perhaps even my own city – there were fourteen-year-olds forced into prostitution in order to survive. That a fourteen-year-old could get raped – by a stranger, by a relative, by a friend – and end up pregnant as a result. That the world was filled with all sorts of terror and trauma of which abortion was only one example.
Nowadays, I still believe the basic moral principles that guide the pro-life movement. The question of when human life begins – whether at conception, birth or perhaps some other stage in one’s personal development from childhood to maturity – is complex, and I don’t think that there is a simple answer. However, one fact that cannot be denied is that a fetus is a living being which after the first month of pregnancy has a beating heart and can feel pain, and as I understand it, inflicting the kind of pain that abortion induces on such a being is not morally justifiable. Nevertheless, the arguments of the other side also resonate with a certain truth. My friend’s question comes back to me. If I were to find myself unexpectedly pregnant, even now, what would I do? I’d like to think that I would carry the baby to term and deliver him or her into life (even if I opted to give the child up for adoption afterwards). But still, I can’t say for certain what I would do until the situation happens. Who am I to judge someone else, especially if that someone has become pregnant in traumatic circumstances? For people on the pro-choice side, the issue is not the morality of abortion itself. It is more about who gets to make moral decisions. The choice is left to the individual. If a woman chooses to have an abortion, that is her right and responsibility, and the consequences that come with it are hers to deal with. Members of the pro-life movement often refer to people of the pro-choice movement as “pro-abortion.” I doubt that anyone on the pro-choice side would state that abortion in itself is a good thing. And now we come to the main point of this post.
The debate over abortion – which continues to rage in the United States as well as many other countries – is one fuelled with harsh rhetoric, polarization, and exclusion; it’s a culture war in which each side seeks to strengthen its position by casting the opposition out as an absolute enemy. While pro-lifers frame pro-choicers as “pro-abortion,” pro-choicers frame pro-lifers as misogynistic and “anti-choice,” disrespecting an individual woman’s right to make a moral decision for herself. A closer look reveals that the two sides are essentially arguing about different issues: while one looks at the morality of the act itself, the other focuses on the question of who should have the authority to make this moral decision: the individual or the community? The issues are separate, but the abortion debate combines them into one. And this, to my understanding, is the main reason why this remains such a polarized issue. The two sides continue to argue and argue without admitting just what it is that they are arguing about.
A recent article on the Slacktiverse blog explains this confusion in more depth by focusing on the differences between proclamation and policy – two different philosophical conceptions about the role of law. According to the author of this piece,
The “proclamation” perspective holds that the purpose of the law is to announce or express the moral views of society, while the “policy” perspective holds that law should be used to change the material conditions of society, including through indirect means. The unacknowledged difference between these two perspectives leads to proposed laws being justified in terms that their opponents find literally incomprehensible, causing confused political discourse. Likewise, the under-examination of this distinction leads to thoughtless, unjustified radicalism on this question. Even a cursory exploration of these two sides of the law can help clarify numerous legislative debates, past and contemporary, while allowing citizens to more clearly understand their own views and values.
The author of the article suggests that both proclamation and policy are valid ways of thinking about the law and have their rightful place. He continues,
The “proclamation” model holds that the law represents an expression of moral values. Among the most lauded examples of the “proclamation” model of law was the USA’s Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation marked an official declaration of the Union’s position on slavery: unequivocally against. It was able to fulfill this goal without, in fact, freeing many slaves. Though it ultimately took several more years of military action and a Constitutional Amendment to end slavery in the USA as an institution, the Emancipation Proclamation is still understood as the key moment in the process of emancipation, because it articulated the Union’s moral stance against slavery so incontestably… Conversely, the “policy” model holds that the aim of the law is to change conditions as they actually apply; to address problems and improve the state. It is hard to find an independent, ideal example of legislative work of this form—as policy cannot be considered in isolation, and it does not tend to attract much notice. Thus, we can consider the example of a field rather than a particular law. Traffic law is a useful example for an initial approach. It involves a great number of small decisions which must be made, by the legislature or regulatory bodies. Few, if any, such decisions can be resolved by appeal to prior moral principle.
The author argues that each approach to law has its rightful place and that in some cases, such as in laws against perjury. However, he states that they come into conflict in some cases and cites abortion as an example:
I personally encountered one such question when talking with a pro-life friend. (I myself am pro-choice.) I made the argument that legal abortion keeps the procedure safe while not actually increasing its frequency, and that, on the other hand, the pro-life movement fails to endorse policies that would actually decrease the incidence of abortion. He granted this claim, more or less, but held that it was still important to outlaw abortion as a statement of what is right and wrong. Policy-relevant information will not affect the legislative preferences of someone thinking in proclamation terms.
In general, this argument leads me to wonder if it might be possible to make some sort of compromise on the abortion issue – or at least achieve a greater level of understanding – by looking at the issue in terms of the proclamation/policy distinction. For people on the pro-choice side, I have to ask – would it really weaken their argument to admit that abortion is a painful procedure for both mother and child, that it is traumatic, and that it is – for some people at least – morally questionable? I remember when the war in Iraq was about to begin in 2003. When Democrats began to state their opposition to the war on moral grounds, the standard Republican response was, “We’re not pro-war. No one wants there to be a war. We just see it as the only viable option in this case.” Leavng the Iraq War and its moral implications aside for the moment, I will state that, in general, war and abortion are similar issues. Both involve loss of life, both are deemed inherently immoral by some, and both can’t be prevented by legislation (ever hear of the Kellogg-Briand Pact passed to outlaw war after World War I?) By acknowledging the morally questionable nature of abortion and stating directly that they seek not to promote or actively encourage people to seek abortions, by making a statement about ethos as well as policy, people on the pro-choice side could potentially engage with a much less heated discussion with pro-lifers than what usually occurs.
Meanwhile, people on the pro-life side might benefit from looking at the issue from a policy perspective. If we really want to bring about an end to abortion, is seeking to change the law necessarily the best approach? Won’t abortions continue to occur illegally (and dangerously)? Perhaps the better approach is to focus on policies that will lower the amount of unwanted pregnancies that occur as well as promoting the primary alternative to abortion: adoption. We can also seek to educate women about the options available to them and let them know that abortion isn’t the only option for someone who, for whatever reason, cannot or does not want to become a mother. We can respect the individual’s right to make moral decisions while working – through various peaceful, respectful means – to encourage them to make a good decision.
Finally, for those of us who are religious – as many in the pro-life movement are – we can pray. Pray for healing for those women who have endured abortion, as well as for those who have endured rape, abuse and all sorts of traumas. Pray for healing in a world where the culture of death manifests in so many forms – capital punishment, war, poverty, discrimination against the elderly, disabled and all who are vulnerable in our society. In the world in which we live, it can be hard to believe that prayer still matters; it’s something I all too often forget. But it is through prayer that we can learn to become truly compassionate toward the people who need us most.