Quick Salvo at the Young Gun(s)

Friendly neighboring blog The Debate Link, authored by the young and enterprising David Schraub today posts about “equality” and woman’s rights, Mr Schraub points to a post over by Belle Lettre at Law and Letters which decries a “strong and growning Christian Right anti-conctraceptive movement”. Ms Lettre quotes a New York Times article which declaims in depth and explores this “movement”, which it admits “isn’t centralized; it seems rather to be part of the evolution of the conservative movement”.

I have a few quick questions:

  • Neither the article in question nor our two bloggers quoted, who note “the strong and growing” movement cite anything to indicate the real size or strength of this “movement” (which isn’t centralized). Mr Schraub has decried the alarmism on the right in the past, might he not be guilty of the same sin?
  • Mr Schraub and Ms Lettre both seem to take as a tacit assumption that contraception is an unalloyed good and a necessity for “equality”. However neither of these two essayists actually examine the core issues at hand but assume that their readers are of like mind. Both assume that taking a position contra-contraception, as it were, is directly contra-women. However they shy away from (or see no need) to confront any reasoning on the opposite side, for example John Paul’s “theology of the body” or for example this post. It seems to me that either the young feminists such as those two either have debated, digested, and set aside as unfit such thinking … but having done so see no means (!?) or reasons to explain or confront those who might disgree, or that the collegial Academy is so non-diverse that the theology of the body and other opposed ideas (complementarianism) just never reach their horizon.

    Ms Lettre it seems sets aside any possibllity of confronting any opposing ideas for opposition to contraception is in her words, “And never forget how much all of this “debate” is pure sexual politics, designed to rob you of that autonomy.” Well, that’s a fine way to engage debate, that approach kinda kills discourse, eh? If you don’t have ar ready answer just dismiss your opponent by making unassailable (and often unwarranted) assumptions of his (or her) motives.

  • Ms Lettre and Mr Schraub seems outraged by the thought of arranged marriage, which apparently is an example of the oppression of women? How does that work? After all, arranged marraiges it seems to me bind in marriage a man and a woman … which if an imposition for the parties involved seems not to single out the woman as “oppressed”. I’d certainly concede that, if oppression it is, it equally opresses the young. But with the rise of the 19th century predominance of romantic love as the “genuine” and “only” basis for a “good” marriage has happiness of all involved been dramatically improved? Has the fall of courtship and the uninvolvement of the parents in the marital process smoothed over the relationships between the sexes? How many marraiges do we see in our peers between people that everyone concerned “knows” is doomed to fail. Might we not entertain mechanisms for preventing mishaps like that? Are not parents, two concerned sets of loving people who might be best suited to put such brakes on such unions?
  • Finally, I’m the father of two spirited young girls rapidly approaching their teenage and dating years. Unlike Mr Schraub (and perhaps Ms Lettre) I have not taken courses in Feminist thought (or perhaps as of now given much credence to same) . Ms Lettre bemoans her father’s strict rules re’ dating. My “strict” rule so far, is that my young girls will not be dating any young men at all until they complete a careful reading (and discussion) of Kass and Kass excellent book Wing to Wing. I’d be curious as to their thoughts on that approach and how “oppressive” it might be.

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  1. be a liberal.” These criticisms baffle me, since they can’t both really be true. Also, I wonder about the spelling/grammar abilities of my detractors. But nevermind. I don’t have it as bad as this guy (i.e., no rape/death threats). I do not mind havingreasoned, principled disagreements with others, and generally do not not shy away from debate. But having little experience with the blogger phenomena of trolls of sorrow, it’s a little off-putting. For a few days. And it gave me time to catch up on some non-digital reading, like Orhan Pamuk’s

  2. I feel reasonably comfortable in saying that there is “strong and growing” anti-contraception movement on the right. I’m not a Political Scientist (yet), so I can’t give you any hard data numerically. But I do follow some of the core players in the Christian right movement (not liberal sites covering them, but the sites themselves). Based on what I’ve read from groups such as the Family Research Council (one of the most powerful Christian Conservative groups) and President Bush’s push for absitnence-only (as opposed to abstinence plus) sex education, I think the argument is sufficiently grounded in key political players such as to make it worth responding to.

    I don’t think either I or Belle say that contraception is an “unalloyed good”, I say that access to contraception (and information about it) are the essential goods. (“[I]t goes without saying that sexual abstinence and chastity are perfectly valid choices, so long as they are made independently and not by social fiat.”). And I think that this is the right line to take. It is not anti-woman to advise that abstinence is superior to premarital sex. It is anti-woman to restrict access to information about or access to contraception. The former gives her information and asks her to make an informed, autonomous decision. The latter treats her like a morally infantile ward of the state. And of course, while men (probably) couldn’t get contraception either, since the risks of sexual activity fall more heavily on women, they stand far more to lose when contraceptive options are taken off the table. So yes, when the state deprives a woman of access to particular sexual options, it is engaging in “sexual politics” which “reduce [her] autonomy.” Furthermore, since even the Catholic Church is willing to concede that contraception might be the lesser of two evils in certain cases, it seems like at least knowing what the rubber-thingys DO (and don’t do) is kind of important. All I’m advocating is an open educational environment on the subject, which respects the autonomy of both men and women.

    Recall the context of my objection to an arranged marriage. My friend had her admission to an elite private southern university withdrawn by her parents (without her prior knowledge) because she refused to consent to an arranged marriage. It took her one full year for her to convince them to let her attend any college at all–eventually at the local state university where they could keep a close eye on her. That’s why arranged marriages piss me off–they’re inherently disrespectful of individual autonomy. I have absolutely no qualms about proclaiming the superiority of marriage-via-love over the feudal system where women were glorified bargaining chips for political power games (and while men were too to some extent, at least they’d eventually reap the rewards of the manipulation). It oppresses women particularly because they are under far more pressure to consent to such marriages, both via social custom (“old maid” is worse than–and tagged sooner than–“aging bachelor”), power relations (women remain less likely to support themselves outside of family networks), and violent threats (rape or sexual assault). Similarly, remember why Belle is upset. Her dad’s “strict rules” were apparently so stringent that she would have “feared for her life” if he had gotten wind of her activities. That’s why I’m not willing to just trust the parents. In a healthy relationship, as I’m sure you have with your daughters (though I’m not sure what to make of you making Chicago Bioethicists mandatory pre-dating reading–seems abusive 😀 ), children will give adequate consideration to the moral precepts of their parents, will feel free to discuss these issues with them, and know that regardless of what decision they ultimately make, they will be loved. Not everybody can count on that treatment–and it’s for them that we need to design alternate paths.

    My parents probably have more relaxed views on sexuality than I do. They’ve openly said that they have no expectation I’ll be a virgin prior to marriage, and they just want to be sure that I practice safe sex (of course, transmitting those values requires information on/access to contraception, which means at some level we’re going to have to anger some parents). Even still, I haven’t had sex yet, and while I don’t specifically have an objection to premarital sex, I would want to be sure I’m in a committed, stable relationship. Would you prefer a world where I wasn’t given grounds to construct independent theories on sexuality from those of my parents? I for one, am glad I had access to more information, not less.

  3. Belle Lettre says:

    David has said much of what I wanted to say, but I wanted to add these particular responses:

    Lest there be misconceptions formed about my personal morality from my political opinions, I just want to make a few things clear. I have great respect life, love, bodily integrity, and intimacy. I help to take care of 8 children, and truly love them. I help to raise them with good manners and values. I want them to believe, as I do, that love is more than passion–it is committment and respect. Sexual intimacy is not something to be regarded lightly or treated with profligacy. I want them to respect and love the people they choose to be with. But I want them to have the tools of knowledge as well as these good morals and values. I want them to really know the emotional and psychological costs to everything. But I don’t want them to feel devalued or immoral if they “make mistakes,” and nor do I want them to be ignorant or caught in worser positions for that ignorance. I am a pro choice woman who honestly believes that it is never a good choice, and that it is not a choice one should be happy to make. It is tragic, but tragic too is the inability to make that choice.

    With respect to bodily integrity or “theology of the body,” there are many different points of view on what constitutes integrity. I believe in personal autonomy–not at the complete expense of a meta conception of “humanity,” but that I do no great injustice to humanity or “life” by exercising control over my own reproductive process. We will likely never agree on this point, or at which point life is created–so I shall pursue this point no further.

    Finally, what I think about how you are raising your daughters–it is how I am helping to raise my 14 year old nephew. I told him that he must respect and love his partner, and that I hoped he would wait until marriage. I expressed to him my own personal regrets that a relationship I so completely believed in fell apart. But this does not mean I am wavering in my support for conception or the right to choose. I just know the personal costs quite well. How you raise your daughter is your own business, and my opinion matters little. But for what it’s worth, I think it’s good to value love and respect and restraint. I just don’t want to raise my own children in constant fear of verbal or physical abuse over being caught _talking_ to a platonic male friend. Do you not think that your daughters and I were raised differently? And I am glad of that. I would not wish that life of fear and control–true control, not this playfully used “oppression” you speak of–on anyone.

  4. Belle Lettre says:

    Oh, and another clarification–I did not comment on arranged marriages, David did. And although I admire David greatly, I would frown on the conflation of two people’s viewpoints for the sake of rhetorical efficiency. But I will comment now. My parents had an arranged marriage. For the most part, although my father can be sometimes hard on my mother, it has worked out well. Arranged marriages, in which both love and respect grow with the marriage, can indeed work very well. But both my parents were willing to enter the match, and had met previously to the wedding day. My mother’s younger sibling made a “love” match. And no, I don’t think romantic love ruined the institution of marriage. While one should not have an irrational conception of love and passion, love is a great thing to build a marriage on. I have a friend my age whose parents are trying to force her into an arranged marriage–despite her being in love with another very suitable Muslim man. Do you not think that her being forced against her will into marriage with someone she does not care for is “oppressive”? Yes, it is oppressive to both male and female alike, and young more than old–but in the history of the world, in which women were considered chattel to be sold off, I do believe that this oppression has disparate impact on women.

  5. Mark says:

    I’d agree with you that choices on conception should not be by social fiat, but … it seems to me unless I’m mistaken, contraception and information about that is currently very much in the hands of the state. Public (free) availability of contraception is thus specifically sanctioned by the state (see Ms Lettre’s comments regarding her approval of California’s role in the availability and access to said items). You are not consistent. You say you don’t like the state involved, but they are and you tacitly it seems approve because their involvement is in line with your personal preference not your stated preference of state non-involvment.

    It seems to me your ideas of the “unfair” weighting of the consequences of extra-marital sex leaning more heavily on the woman lead to the wrong conclusion. Your conclusion is that “consequence-free” sex (contraception) is the best solution to this unfair arrangment bequeathed us by nature. I’d hold that the older (now mostly lost it seems) formal institutions of dating, courtship, and marraige were specifically in place to address this in that it encourages and makes it natural for both men and women to share in the commitment of raising their progeny.

    Finally, I seriously cannot recommend Kass & Kass’ book highly enough. The book is an excellent collection of primary sources drawn from the Western canon of thought on the institutions of courtship and marriage. It is not a extended conservative essay on the authors own opinions on this matter, but a collection of what the great minds in the Western world have thought on this matter. The authors give a short page or so introducing and motivating each selection. And btw, Amy Kass is not a bio-ethicist.

    What I guess I wish you’d have done in your essay is to not just point out what the “conservative right” is doing and assume “all right thinking people” might see how silly that was. But to show your ideas and theirs interact or differ. I actually have some sense of what the conservative stance is, but I have little or no reasonable understanding of how you put your opposing point of view together.

  6. Mark says:

    You’re probably not a regular reader, but the position with regard choice (and other issues) has been that these are moral decisions which should be taken not lightly. That point of view on abortion (euthenasia, divorce, the list goes on) we might agree. My position is that it would make sense to enact “penance” legislation (as it were) enacting a burden, be it service, jail-time, fine, or some combination of the above by those who wish to do these things to insure that the decision is not taken lightly.

    As to marriage, all I’m trying to say is that far too often romantic love alone should not be held as a sufficient reason to get married. That societal (parental) approval might be a often a good check on some of the disastrous marriages often seen.

    I’m curious, you “feared for your life” (or your health and safety) if you might engage in platonic friendships/relationships with male peers. What do you think your father’s motivation for this was? Oppression, Love, propriety, or what? Could it be that he thought he was acting in your best interests?

    Oh, and I’ll correct the mistaken imputation of comments on arrainged marriages in the above essay. It’s a blog essay, written too hastily and full of errors as is so often the case. I apologize.

  7. Yes, the state gives access to and information on contraception. This certainly “sanctions” it, but it doesn’t endorse it specificaly. And the whole concept of having an autonomous choice on these issues (which we seem to be in agreement is the overriding concern) requires that the state maximize the choices it sanctions. Even by providing contraception, it still sanctions abstinence and courtship, for example. I can stay abstinent, or I can be a hippie freelove wild man, or I can be cautious and use contraception in a few commited non-marital relations. Any and all are “sanctioned” by the state, though it need not endorse all or any of them.

    I don’t have an objection to the state being “involved” per se, because I’m not sure what it not being involved would look like (beyond the typical anarcho-libertarian dystopias). My issue was what it does in its involvement. My answer is that it should involve itself in these debates so as to maximize choice. Because all people are different and all contexts are different, I think it is qualitatively better to provide people with the tools to live as many life paths as possible, rather than try and force everybody into little boxes because we don’t trust them to make the right decisions.

  8. Mark says:

    In the essay you quoted of Ms Lettre’s, it seems you are incorrect. The state certainly provides more than access to and information. She writes:

    I am fortunate enough to live in the State of California, which provides basic gynecological and family planning care, in addition to a year’s supply of any contraception of your choice, if you are not self-insured or otherwise unable to pay for this care yourself. This limited insurance card can be renewed each year, as necessary. (emphasis mine)

    If you think providing a thing for free is not sanction … I’m not sure how to respond. Do you imagine that sanction must mean coercion or that it be required?

    In what ways might you support similarly back your claim that the state sanctions courtship and abstinence? Tax breaks for celibacy (testing)? Free seamstress services for bundling? I think not. California (and perhaps other states as well) supports a specific government sponsered interpretation on the appropriateness and “rightness” of contraception. This could be in turn interpreted as a specific state driven “theology of the body”. You are free to choose (of course), but this particular viewpoint is the one encouraged and paid for by the state.

  9. jpe says:

    Mr Schraub has decried the alarmism on the right in the past, might he not be guilty of the same sin?

    Heavens no. His post was sober and careful analysis; there’s no way the above exchanges can be characterized as alarmism.

  10. Mark says:

    I meant in the past.

  11. I agree California sanctions contraception. That’s why I wrote in my last comment: “Yes, the state gives access to and information on contraception. This certainly ‘sanctions’ it, but it doesn’t endorse it specificaly.” By allowing contraception, California sanctions an additional choice beyond chastity, and by making providing it free for those who otherwise could not afford it (as Belle’s post makes clear), California extends that choice to poor citizens as well as wealthy ones.

    The state provides similar “support” for abstinence under any sensible view, because abstinence is free. Lack of health insurance doesn’t mean you can no longer be celibate, but in order to use contraceptives you need to have access to contraceptives (that’s almost tautological). So there really isn’t a comparable program California could undertake on the provision side for abstinence (maybe free chastity belts? But only if the women and not their parents freely get to choose to wear them. Actually, I’ve heard of anti-rape devices that catch would be rapists, er, weapon, in their grasp. I’d certainly support giving THOSE devices out for free). On the information side, I think California can certainly give out brochures on how to be abstinent (in fact, that’s what abstinence plus education effectively is).

    There is a continuum here. Sanctioning a choice means (in my view) allowing it (as in Boxing: “this is a sanctioned fight”). Endorsing it means specifically encouraging it, as in promotion (“this fight is endorsed by Coca-Cola!”). Coercion means forcing it upon people (“You and you: fight to death!”). So if we were to cross-apply to contraception, sanction means allowing and providing access to pills and condoms, endorsement means specifically encouraging their use over other activities, and coercion means physically stuffing the pill down women’s throats. I advocate sanctioning as broad an array of choices as possible in this field, but the coercion of none.

  12. Mark says:

    I know you wrote, “access to and information on”, but “access” and providing for free seem to me different things. How much does a condom cost anyhow?

    As to “education” efforts, personally I seriously doubt that many English speaking people over the age of 13 don’t know (a) that sex results in children on occaison and (b) the purpose of condoms.

    By your criteria I’d estimate that California enorses contraception as they pick up the bill and my guess is that this is not exacctly a secret, but gives actually only gives lip-service to endorsing abstinence while actually only sanctioning it.

    Our difference in this regards “access”. All American’s have “access” to space flight, but few have the spare change to avail themselves on it in my view. However, you would claim only those who have access are those few with that money.