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Why Is Sean Hannity So Mad You're Having Sex? 5 Ways Conservatives Attack Sexual Freedom

Conservatives' attacks on sexuality have grown more radical, in the past year alone.
 
 
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The hard right turn taken by the conservative movement in the past couple of years has meant a rapid increase in conservatives taking unpopular stances: opposing Social Security and Medicare, pushing for a default on government debt, and various austerity measures sure to protect the rich while plunging the rest of the country into economic darkness. But they haven’t just embraced wildly unpopular views on economic issues, but also on social issues, especially when it comes to sexual freedom.   

Traditionally, conservatives have kept their attacks on sexual freedom limited to areas where they know they can gin up more controversy, such as gay rights and abortion. They had a larger anti-sex agenda, but knew it would be hard to sell to the public at large, and so merely chewed on the corners of sexual liberation. But something about the election of Obama caused a synapse to blow in the right-wing brain, and the attacks on sexual liberation have expanded beyond gay rights and abortion. Now conservatives are attacking sexual freedom on many fronts: abortion, access to contraception, and freedom to be sexual without being assaulted for it, freedom to be sexual no matter your race or class.  

Here’s five ways conservative attacks on sexuality have grown more radical in the past year alone: 

1. Turning contraception into a political issue. Conservative pundits and activists have really turned up the intensity of their attacks on contraception. That’s contraception, not abortion. Since contraception doesn’t have any real implications for fetal life, the pretense that conservatives oppose abortion out of some great love of life has been gradually abandoned in favor of blatant attacks on contraception access, complete with warnings about the supposed evils of non-procreative sexuality.   

It started with the Republicans attempting to shut down the federal government over subsidized contraception for poor women. The surface excuse for bringing budget negotiations to a halt over contraception subsidies was that Planned Parenthood offers abortions with a separate funding stream, but that rationalization was thin even by conservative standards, and fell apart when Planned Parenthood supporters pointed out that contraception prevents abortion.  

Plus, some legislators didn’t even bother to keep up appearances. Rep. Steve King lambasted Planned Parenthood's federal funding by declaring that the century-old organization is “invested in promiscuity,” a claim that assumes promiscuity isn’t capable of selling itself. 

After the federal attack on Planned Parenthood failed, conservatives didn’t just pack up and go home. Many state legislatures, including those in Indiana, Texas and Kansas, set out to cut off Planned Parenthood’s contraception funding. Anti-sex arguments got bolder on the state level, with New Hampshire council member Raymond Wieczorek justifying his committee’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood by saying, “If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?” 

We’re currently in round two of the right wing’s escalation of attacks on contraception access. This time, hay is being made over Health and Human Services passing a regulation that will require insurance companies to offer contraception without a co-pay. The right-wing media’s reaction to this could charitably be described as a complete freak-out.  

2. Making sexual resentment a right-wing trope. Sean Hannity is really the master of this one, routinely invoking the specter of some young thing getting naked with men who aren’t in his audience, in order to make his audience resentful, and ready to take it out on women as a group. On the February 23 edition of his show, Hannity said, “I’m pro-choice in this sense: If you choose to get in the back seat of a car with somebody; if you choose to make out with them; if you choose to grab, grope and fondle; if you choose to take one article of clothing off after another...guess what? You made a series of choices.” He made sex, which your average American has more than twice a week, sound like some subterranean and strange activity that ordinary people turn their noses up to, and like it’s a criminal offense requiring the loss of freedom, at least for women.   

But Hannity exceeded even this bit of pandering to sexual jealousy in a more recent episode, when in a rant denouncing the new HHS requirements that insurance companies offer contraception without a co-pay, he characterized the regulations as “not fair” because, “I won’t have the sex but I’ll be paying for the birth control.” It’s just a matter of time before he comes right out and says that if he or his viewers aren’t getting sex at home, no one else should be, either. 

Sandy Rios also hopped the sexual resentment train in her arguments against the HHS regulations on Fox News, arguing that when women have contraception, they have “unlimited” and “unrestrained” sex. She never explained why there should be restraints and limits on sex beyond mindfulness of consent, health and the feelings of the people involved. It’s simply assumed that the sexual resentments of the audience are reason enough to lay waste to the private choices of others. 

Rush Limbaugh enjoys drumming up sexual resentment for men as well as women. He spent many hours of his programming ranting about the Rep. Anthony Weiner scandal. His reason for being so angry with Weiner? Not because the pictures were potentially abusive, or because he felt bad for Weiner’s wife. No, Limbaugh obsessed over the idea that Weiner and other Democrats caught up in sex scandals are oversexed perverts, which left him open to a prank caller calling in and asking him about being caught with a bottle of illegal Viagra while coming back from the sex tourism-heavy Dominican Republican. Limbaugh, caught in a bout of outrageous hypocrisy, basically sputtered and hung up the phone.  

3. Race- and class-baiting the sex lives of others. For the past decade, most of the anti-choice movement has been putting up a front of concern for women, even while advocating bans on abortion that put women’s lives in danger. Anti-choicers issued a mountain of propaganda claiming abortion causes depression, breast cancer, failed marriages, and other such nonsense, all in an attempt to make it seem like they care about women. 

Those days appear to be ending. Instead, anti-choicers are returning to a strategy of using classist and racist stereotypes to denounce women who have abortions, by arguing that abortion exists because women of color and poor women are dirty sluts, and bad mothers to boot.  

The most odious example is a nationwide campaign of billboards targeting black and Hispanic women claiming that these women are dangerous to children because some of them--like some of all women--have abortions. The billboards exploit ugly stereotypes of non-white women long-held by many conservatives: that black and Hispanic women are bad mothers, and irresponsible, promiscuous women.

Of course, white women living in poverty also find themselves targeted by right-wing stereotypes of irresponsible sluts. Take this ad from the anti-choice group Live Action, which portrays a pregnant woman drinking and smoking while appearing too poor to afford maternity clothes.

Live Action gets a lot of mileage out of portraying women who require reproductive health care in as negative a light as possible. The group is known for going into Planned Parenthood clinics with hidden cameras, trying to capture footage that can be manipulated to make Planned Parenthood look bad. The actors often play stereotyped versions of sex workers and young women living in poverty, depicting these people as stupid, irresponsible, gullible, and immoral.   

4. Suggesting rape is fair punishment for sexually active women. A rash of stories about famous rape cases and the anti-rape protest phenomenon known as SlutWalk have created an unfortunate string of conservative bloggers and pundits insinuating, if not outright claiming, that being violently assaulted is what women have coming to them for being flirtatious, dressing in sexy ways, or, God forbid, actually having consensual sex outside of marriage.   

Right-wing blogger Robert Stacy McCain responded to the accusations against Julian Assange by arguing that by allowing a man into their homes and into their beds, the women basically gave up their right not to be raped. “You buy the ticket,” McCain said, “you take the ride.”   

This rape apology would be easier to write off as an anomaly if it wasn’t the main theme of conservative responses to SlutWalk. Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America denounced SlutWalk by saying that women who wear “provocative” clothing are attracting the attention of angry, violent men. Sean Hannity argued on-air that women who dress “immodestly” are basically “asking for” sex. Right-wing blogger Melissa Clouthier tweeted that SlutWalk was a waste of feminist time, a comment that only makes sense if you honestly think it’s not a problem that men get away with rape because so many people blame the victim.    

5, Ramping up hysteria about abortion. Of course, it’s not like the right has given up abortion as an issue, even as they’ve taken up rape and contraception. In fact, this newfound enthusiasm for raising the alarm over sexuality has invigorated the anti-abortion movement, creating nearly 1,000 anti-abortion bills in state legislatures across the nation.   

But it’s not just the volume of anti-abortion legislation that indicates a sour attitude toward human sexuality. The content of these regulations reveals quite a bit about right-wing attitudes toward women getting abortions, namely that said women are stupid, irresponsible, dirty, and no doubt sexually promiscuous. Kansas attempted a backdoor ban on abortion by passing so many regulations that providers couldn't meet them all, but what was interesting about the regulations was how they assumed abortion clinics are more like crack dens than medical clinics, and therefore need the number of bathrooms and size of the janitorial closet regulated.

Most offensive are the ultrasound regulations, which have been passed in Texas and North Carolina, among other states. These laws require women getting abortions to sit through extra ultrasounds while having to listen to anti-abortion propaganda. Ultrasound laws work off the assumption that a woman getting an abortion is literally too stupid to know what an abortion is unless you rub her nose in it. It’s the ultimate result of anti-choice stereotypes which infer that the mere fact of accidental pregnancy means a woman is too dumb to be trusted with any decision about her body.

 
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