4 Ways Conservatives Are Fighting to Control Women's Sex Lives
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In a series of interviews with female survivors of sexual violence at Patrick Henry College, Feldman uncovered an institutional pattern of victim-blaming and impunity for perpetrators that was grounded in the school’s strict adherence to evangelical doctrine, specifically its “gender complementarian” norms and toxic purity culture.
Though generally viewed as a safe haven for young people with an evangelical Christian worldview, Patrick Henry College turned out to be a very dangerous place to be a survivor of sexual assault. It is, in other words, much like everywhere else in this country.
Evangelical Christianity makes visible — through purity pledges and doctrine assigning women the role of man’s “helpmate” — the norms and expectations about female virginity and subservience that so often remain hidden in the secular world. While it may be tempting to draw a red line around Christian fundamentalist views on gender and sexuality to distinguish them from supposedly evolved “secular” culture, there is considerable, uncomfortable overlap between the two.
Here are four ways “secular” American culture mirrors Christian purity culture.
Republicans are fighting to keep women from accessing birth control.
Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh calling women who take birth control “sluts” or Mike Huckabee mansplaining why it’s actually “empowering” to deny women insurance coverage for contraception, one point remains clear: Conservatives want to enshrine religiously defined norms about sexuality into law.
Republicans who oppose the Affordable Care Act have made contraceptive coverage a main point of attack against the policy because ensuring women have affordable and reliable access to birth control means accepting — and culturally and institutionally sanctioning — women’s ability to control their own fertility and sexuality. (Women, of course, take birth control for reasons other than avoiding pregnancy, but you will notice that these “other” women never factor into conservatives’ tirades against the evils of contraception.)
But empowering women to control their sexuality and separate sex from pregnancy and childbearing is a violation of the conservative view of sex — which is about reproduction and male entitlement.
Enabling women to make these choices also ensures they have equal access to opportunities in education and work, which also goes against conservative views about women’s place in the home. As I have previously noted, a recent review of more than 66 studies conducted over three decades reveals that a woman’s ability to control her fertility impacts much more than just if and when she will have a child; contraception plays a significant role in shaping women’s financial, professional and emotional lives.
According to Adam Sonfield, the lead author of the review from the Guttmacher Institute, “The scientific evidence strongly confirms what has long been obvious to women. Contraceptive use, and the ensuing ability to decide whether and when to have children, is linked to a host of benefits for themselves, the quality of their relationships, and the well-being of their children.”
Mainstream news outlets are still running editorials chastising women for having sex before marriage.
Susan Patton is a joke, but she’s not the only person arguing in mainstream publications that women who have sex outside of marriage are setting themselves up for disaster and heartbreak. (Hi, Ross Douthat!)
In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal last week, Patton warned single women, “The grandmotherly message of yesterday is still true today: Men won’t buy the cow if the milk is free.”