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Why Patriarchal Men Are Utterly Petrified of Birth Control and Why We'll Still Be Fighting About It 100 Years From Now

Conservative bishops and Congressmen are fighting a rear-guard action against one of the most revolutionary changes in human history.

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Thousands of generations of men and women have lived under some variant of this order — some variations more benevolent, some more brutal, but all similar enough in form and intention — in all times and places, going back to where our memory of time ends. Look at it this way, and you get a striking perspective on just how world-changing it was when, within the span of just a few short decades in the middle of the 20th century, all of that suddenly ended. For the first time in human history, new technologies made fertility a conscious choice for an ever-growing number of the planet’s females. And that, in turn, changed everything else.

With that one essential choice came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before. We could choose to delay childbearing and limit the number of children we raise; and that, in turn, freed up time and energy to explore the world beyond the home. We could refuse to marry or have babies at all, and pursue our other passions instead. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men — education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making. 

That one fact, that one technological shift, is now rocking the foundations of every culture on the planet — and will keep rocking it for a very long time to come. It is, over time, bringing a louder and prouder female voice into the running of the world’s affairs at every level, creating new conversations and new priorities in areas where the men long ago thought things were settled and understood. It's bending our understanding of what sex is about, and when and with whom we can have it -- a wrinkle that created new frontiers for gay folk as well. It may well prove to the be the one breakthrough most responsible for the survival of the human race, and the future viability of the planet.

But perhaps most critically for us right now: mass-produced, affordable, reliable contraception has shredded the ages-old social contracts between men and women, and is forcing us all (willing or not) into wholesale re-negotiations on a raft of new ones.

And, frankly, while some men have embraced this new order— perhaps seeing in it the potential to open up some interesting new choices for them, too — a global majority is increasingly confused, enraged, and terrified by it. They never wanted to be at this table in the first place, and they’re furious to even find themselves being forced to have this conversation at all. 

It was never meant to happen. It never should have happened. And they’re doing their damndest to put a stop to it all, right now, and make it go away.

It’s this rage that’s driving the Catholic bishops into a frenzied donnybrook fight against contraception — despite the very real possibility that this fight could, in the end, damage their church even more fatally than the molestation scandal did.  As the keepers of a 2000-year-old enterprise — one of the oldest continuously-operating organizations on the planet, in fact — they take the very long view. And they understand, better than most of us, just how unprecedented this development is in the grand sweep of history, and the serious threat it poses to everything their church has stood for going back to antiquity. (Including, very much, the more recent doctrine of papal infallability.)

 
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