The talk of marriage these last few weeks—whether about same sex marriage, young marriage or, most hilariously, Ivy League marriage—reminds me of a fight I had with a high school boyfriend. We had just gotten back together after a brief break up, during which time we both saw other people. He felt very strongly that I had done something wrong by dating someone else. He, of course, was in the clear.
When I pointed out the double standard, he explained his position thusly: If both women and men went around hooking up and having sex, society would be besieged by sexually transmitted diseases. It was up to women to be monogamous and sexually conservative in order to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. (Apparently men are incapable of such a feat.) The health of society, he argued, was dependent on women’s sexual decisions and relationship trends. No readers, I did not date Ross Douthat.
His teen boy logic—as baffling as it was—is actually not far off from conservative culture’s last grasp at saving marriage as they imagine it. And the core of these death throe attempts to hold onto a version of marriage that never really existed is the idea of women—chaste women—as a stabilizing force in society.
Take Focus on the Family’s “talking points” on marriage. Under the headline, “Marriage is Essential to a Thriving Society,” the organizations says straight marriage is necessary because it “socializes men.”
A society’s most serious problem is the unattached male, and marriage links men to women who help channel male sexuality and aggression in socially productive ways. Marriage and parenthood socialize men to care for and respect their wives, other women and children.
See, ladies? We need to be married so that men won’t go raping and pillaging. And let’s not even get into how single moms are told they’re a scourge on society—as if their relationship choices (or non-choices) determine the wellness of the country.
But marriage isn’t just for men’s and society’s benefit of course—if women don’t want to be sad and alone, we’ll hurry up and get a husband as soon as humanly possible. After all, there’s nothing more important a woman can do than be a good traditional wife. Even if you are a literal rocket scientist, the lede of your life will be about your commitment to your husband or your beef stroganoff recipe.
If traditional marriage benefited everyone—not just men and their pesky unsocialized ways—there wouldn’t need to be quite so much cajoling women about how fabulous it all is. (I will never forget the laugh I had when David Brooks assured women that “power is in the kitchen.”) The truth is that this desperate nostalgia for traditional marriage and antiquated gender roles will never be stronger than women’s will to be free from constraining norms.
Conservatives need to understand that what they’re pushing for is an impossible sell: Women’s subservience to the domestic as a cultural grounding force, while men get to work and explore and create? No thank you. We don’t want the good of society on our relationships’ shoulders.
There will always be wistful, wishful-thinking articles hoping to turn the tide on women’s sexuality and partnerships. But there will also always be more women thinking, “good riddance.”
By: Jessica Valenti, The Nation, April 12, 2013
Legislators from Arizona to Virginia want women to undergo often invasive procedures before having a legal abortion, since the lawmakers are convinced that the women don’t really understand what they are doing. And leaders in the Catholic Church, which opposes contraception, are fighting Obama administration rules requiring employers (including those affiliated with the church, although not the church itself) to include birth control in their healthcare plans. The battles—which many of us thought had been fought and resolved decades ago—have caused dissension over religious freedom versus religious dictate, and on the role of government in people’s lives.
Sometimes it takes a common enemy to unite people otherwise diametrically opposed on such an emotional issue. And for that, we have Desmond Hatchett.
Hatchett is the 33-year-old Tennessee man who has fathered 30 children with 11 different women. He has a minimum wage job, and is asking a judge for a break on his child support. Under the law, half of his earnings must go to support the children, and because his earnings are so low, according to local news reports, some of the women receive as little as $1.49 a month in child support. Hatchett told an interviewer who wondered how he managed to help conceive so many children that he had had four kids in one year—”twice,” he added.
Really, legislators and church elders. Do you really think it’s women whose sexuality and sexual behavior needs to be controlled?
There’s surely some sort of medical or psychological term for people who have children for their own sake, with little regard for the health and welfare of the children (not to mention the taxpayers who well might end up supporting them). It’s a special kind of narcissism, the desire for notoriety combined with the self-centered drive to keep replicating your gene pool all over the place. The judgment of the women who got pregnant by this man is also in question (or maybe their healthcare plans don’t cover birth control?), but Hatchett is a special case. At least the women are limited by basic biology to the number of children they can bear in a particular time frame.
So, legislators and radio talk show hosts: The next time you want to wring your hands over the women you consider (or call) misguided, uninformed about their own bodies, or even just plan sluts and prostitutes, have a sit-down with Hatchett. Perhaps he might have benefited from a precarnal video explaining the consequences of his actions.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, May 24, 2012
The resignation of Richard Grenell is a sign that the former Massachusetts governor will cave to anti-gay forces.
Two weeks ago, the Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell—a long-time Republican and former staffer for the Bush White House—to act as a spokesperson on foreign policy and national security. Grenell received tough criticism from Democrats for a series of sexist tweets, but that wasn’t enough to spark reticience from the Romney team.
What was, however, were attacks from religious conservatives on Grenell’s sexuality. Conservative activists hammered Romney for hiring an openly gay spokesperson, and questioned Grenell’s commitment to the conservative cause. “Suppose Barack Obama comes out — as Grenell wishes he would — in favor of same-sex marriage in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention,“ wrote Matthew J. Franck at the National Review, ”How fast and how publicly will Richard Grenell decamp from Romney to Obama?”
This afternoon, Grenell announced his resignation from the Romney campaign, citing the relentless attacks on his sexuality:
I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the Foreign Policy and National Security Spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.
A few things to highlight. First is the remarkable fact that, in 2012, a gay person can’t serve as spokesperson for a Republican campaign, lest they attract criticism from conservative activists. Second, and significantly, is the fact of Romney’s weakness; as standard-bearer for the GOP, Romney was well within his rights to hold fast and reject attacks from the Right. That he didn’t—and allowed Grenell to resign—is a sign of Romney’s skittishness with social conservatives. He is worried enough about their support that he will cave to anti-gay bigotry if necessary. It’s also fitting that this comes on a day when we’re still debating President Obama’s decision to run on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Bowing to pressure from bigots isn’t a great way to inspire confidence in your “resolve.”
One last point. This incident is a better indication of how Romney would govern than anything he’s said or any plan he’s released; he is completely captive to the right-wing, and will cave if they push him. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re tempted to describe the former Massachusetts governor as a moderate.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, May 1, 2012
Until now, reclaiming the word “slut” never appealed to me. I fully supported the message of SlutWalk — that women don’t ask to be raped by dressing a certain way — but I had no interest in applying the slur to myself. But this Limbaugh thing has me singing a different tune.
I’m not exactly scrawling “slut” on my forehead, but suddenly, reclaiming the word seems potentially exciting. I’m not the only one recognizing a shift in the conversation about reclamation. Megan Gibson of Time wrote, “While the motivation [for SlutWalk] was inarguably sound … the protest caused controversy, in part because many were wary to associate themselves with the word slut.” She continues, “Remarkably, thanks to Limbaugh’s ignorant vitriol, we’re seeing a marked change in that wariness.”
That said, in identifying with Sandra Fluke, the target of Limbaugh’s rant, some women have instead chosen to distance themselves from the term, which perfectly illustrates how complicated reclamation can be.
This week, the hashtag “iamnotaslut” went viral. Jessica Scott, an Army officer who started the hashtag, tweeted, “I am a 35 year old mother of 2, an Army officer who has deployed. I use #birthcontrol to be a good soldier & responsible parent #iamnotaslut.”
Feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman points out that the message here is, “Just because I use birth control doesn’t mean I’m a bad girl” — which might imply that some women are bad. “The problem with the ‘iamnotaslut’ hashtag is that it creates a line,” she explains. “[It says,] ‘I’m a valid spokesperson on this but women who have lots of sex are not.’”
Fluke is such a sympathetic character in part because her testimony — contrary to Limbaugh’s bizarre interpretation — wasn’t about sex; it focused on women who need birth control for reasons other than pregnancy prevention (specifically, polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis).
“It’s a way to categorize and differentiate yourself, that you are deserving of respect,” says Leora Tanenbaum, author of “Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation.” It’s not all that different from what she observed among teenage girls while researching her book: The slur was most often used by girls, not boys. It’s a way for girls and women to displace anxiety about their own sexuality. “It’s a classic scapegoating technique,” she says.
The Limbaugh affair is a perfect example of how reclaiming, or rejecting, the term is immensely personal and dependent on context — and it goes much deeper than either SlutWalk or SlutRush. As many have pointed out, the word “slut” comes with different baggage for many women of color. A letter written to the organizers of SlutWalk and signed by hundreds, read, “As Black women, we do not have the privilege or the space to call ourselves ‘slut’ without validating the already historically entrenched ideology and recurring messages about what and who the Black woman is. We don’t have the privilege to play on destructive representations burned in our collective minds, on our bodies and souls for generations.”
How individual acts of reclamation are understood by others is also dependent on context. “If you’re with a girlfriend and you’re like, ‘Yo slut,’ or whatever, everybody laughs and you all understand that you’re being ironic,” says Tanenbaum. “You can be ironic when you’re with people that get the irony.”
One of the major arguments against reclamation at this point in time is that not enough people get the irony. “It may sound funny for me to say, because I did write a book that’s called ‘Slut!,’ but I do have a problem with taking back the term,” says Tanenbaum. “In order to successfully reclaim the term ‘slut’ we need to be in a place where more people have their awareness raised and are cognizant of the sexual double standard and what that means for women’s sexuality and freedom.” It’s still “too much of an in-joke,” she says.
It also means different things to different reclaimers, depending on the context they use it in. Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna once explained her early-’90s performances with “slut” scrawled on her stomach, like so, “I thought a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they looked at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking.” It was a way to preempt critics. Friedman gave a similar explanation for why she chose “My Sluthood, Myself” as the title for a personal essay she wrote about her experience with Craigslist’s Casual Encounters.
“Slut” can also “denote an uninhibited, adventurous and celebratory approach to sex for both men and women in all their magnificent diversity,” says Dossie Eaton, author of the classic “The Ethical Slut,” which was published in 1997. She says, “In the wondrously explorative ’70s, I learned that gay men use the word ‘slut’ as a term of admiration and approval, as in ‘What did you do at that party? Oh, you slut!’” Similarly, the organizers of SlutWalk Seattle wrote in a blog post that “slut” serves as a “sex-positive” term for individuals “who have and enjoy frequent consensual sex, especially with multiple partners.”
In reaction to Limbaugh’s remarks, saying, “Yes, I’m a slut!” feels to me like saying, “Yes, I’m a woman!” My comfort in this case might speak to a lack of daring: It’s certainly less bold to align yourself with “sluts” who use birth control and testify before Congress in conservative professional attire than with “sluts” who raucously march through the streets wearing fishnets and bustiers. Maybe on an emotional level I buy into the notion of good girls and bad girls.
The truth is that, as a slur, “slut” is used to control the sexuality of all women. It can be leveled at any woman, regardless of sexual experience or dress. There is no strict definition of what a slut is — there is no set partner count, no percentage of exposed skin. Part of the difficulty of reclaiming “slut” is that it’s such a divisive term, but that’s also part of the argument for reclaiming it.
By: Tracy Clark-Flory, Staff Writer, Salon, March 10, 2012