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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Sex by Choice: the Highest Compliment

Anyone with a functioning cortex knew that Rush Limbaugh is a vile slug from the moment he uttered his first nasty lie. His recent comments about accomplished, brave law student Sandra Fluke are not surprising, nor is his stone-ignorant equation of contraception with frequency of intercourse: he must have confused responsible sex with his own frantic consumption of Viagra – now there’s unnaturally-induced sex on demand! However, Limbaugh is not the disease, merely its symptom. The belated, lukewarm bleatings and hedgings from the Republican “leadership” and from his advertisers are telling, as is their obfuscation of the fact that contraception is already covered by health insurance; the sole difference is the existence of a co-pay.

In the last year or so, we have seen exclusion of women from decisions that affect them almost exclusively, attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, to define miscarriage as murder, to add invasive, needless sonograms to the already enormous difficulties of getting an abortion. The freak show parade that is this year’s Republican presidential lineup is banging the tin drum of “returning to family values” — aka female poverty and powerlessness, probably because all of them have little knowledge of and interest in education, the environment, the economy, international diplomacy or anything of value to anyone beyond Ponzi-scheme millionaires who live in gated communities with private security. The US is going the way of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia – perhaps a fitting trajectory, since the country seems unwilling or unable to curb its fossil fuel consumption.

The open war on women declared by the Republican Party shows how the Teabaggers and Jesufascists have kidnapped rational, civil discourse in favor of a punitive primitivism that denies basic human decency and is steadily encroaching on hard-won women’s rights. It is no surprise that most foes of contraception are fundies of abrahamic religions, which are disasters for women in any case. However, make no mistake about it: contraception has nothing to do with freedom of religion. The kernel of this sickening backlash is the wish to deny women autonomy. Nothing changed the dynamics of gender interactions like contraception. For the first time in human history, women could reliably regulate the outcome of sexual congress. It removed the specter of unwanted pregnancy – and with that, women could enjoy sex as uninhibitedly as men, finally undoing the predator/prey equation so beloved of evo-psycho Tarzanists the world over.

Ironically, the exercise of contraception, which makes joyful sex possible, is uniquely human. The only partial exception may be our bonobo cousins, who use sex as social glue (often, note bene, initiated by the female members of the group). Contrary to the corrosive lies of benighted fundies, most animals do not choose sex. They go into heat and mate compulsively. In some cases, females exercise mate choice; in others, mating pairs form monogamous bonds. But only humans incorporate sex into their repertoire of chosen pleasures, whether they’re fertile or not. So contrary to the idiotic natterings that “sex on demand” is animal-like, exercising sexual choice is in fact the highest compliment for the activity. It transforms it from instinct, compulsion or random outcome solidly into something treasured, something freely chosen – which, again contrary to the fundies’ nonsense, makes it far more meaningful and powerful than the joyless autopilot version. It is the opposite of prostitution, which is undertaken as a profession and requires control and foregoing of spontaneous pleasure by its practitioners – not that Limbaugh et al are clear on complex concepts.

This is what contraception made possible, and what is at stake here. If people want human women to become truly animal-like, they should recall that most mammals do not recognize paternity, the most common family unit is a female with sub-adult offspring and female mammals routinely abort or kill offspring when they deem the circumstances unpropitious for raising a brood. And if they think that contraception is murder, they can return to the good old days when masturbation was in a similar category. However, all this hypocrisy and twisting of facts really attempts to cloud the core issue: women as equals. By targeting this, the Jesufascists and their ilk across all nations and religions are playing on the primitive fears of men, especially at times of instability and unrest, when it’s far easier to turn on Others than to act constructively for a better collective future. As James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon) famously had a protagonist state in The Women Men Don’t See:

“Women have no rights, except what men allow us. Men // run the world. When the next real crisis upsets them, our so-called rights will vanish like—like that smoke. We’ll be back where we always were: property. And whatever has gone wrong will be blamed on our freedom, like the fall of Rome was. You’ll see.”

Contrary to Freud’s notorious question, the recurrent problem of civilization, as prevalent today as in ancient Sumer, is how to define male roles which satisfy male egos without wreaking terminal havoc. Women still have essentially no power – Tiptree’s dictum still obtains, even in the First World. I personally believe that our societal problems will persist as long as women are not treated as fully human, including the right to be sexual beings by choice. The resorting to medical excuses in support of available contraception, nice as it is, diverts the attention from the central, irreducible issue of women’s basic autonomy and fundamental rights as full humans. The various attempts to improve women’s status, ever subject to setbacks and backlashes, are our marks of successful struggle to attain our full species potential. If we cannot solve this thorny and persistent problem, we may still survive — we have thus far. However, I doubt that we’ll ever truly thrive, no matter what technological levels we achieve.

20 Responses to “Sex by Choice: the Highest Compliment”

  1. Dylan Fox says:

    I’m not sure I’ve got anything intelligent to contribute, but I did want to say this is a bloody good post!

    This, in particular:
    “how to define male roles which satisfy male egos without wreaking terminal havoc”.

    See, Allegra (my partner) and I have noticed an increasing trend among young, white men of being angry and cynical. We talked about it, and came to the conclusion that it had a lot to do with women redefining their own roles in society. No longer are they kept at home and beholden to the men. As the male role was defined by Othering women, and that Othering is being slowly chipped away, it leaves men unsure of what they’re expected to be. So, they feel under attack (who they think they’re meant to be–the fifties career man/misogynist–is suddenly not acceptable) and they get angry and attack back.

    I’m not for one moment suggesting that women have control of their own destiny and society’s perception of them. Clearly that’s not true. But women are allowed to have careers now and domestic abuse is more frowned upon than tolerated. (In general terms. I mean, if you stop random people on the streets they’ll probably give those answers regardless of how they live their lives, because giving any other answer would make them be seen like a bit of a dick.)

    So, yeah, we need to redefine the male role without Othering women or anyone else or ending up with a bloodbath.

    Also, why the hell am I still waiting for a male contraceptive pill?

  2. Athena says:

    Dylan, the answer to your last question is simple: men aren’t interested in it and will not use it, so the pharma companies won’t bother (Viagra, on the other hand, was approved for off-label use with erectile dysfuction close to the speed of light). What’s ironic is that male contraception would be far easier to achieve, but that would require decency and common sense to be the coins of this particular exchange.

  3. Dylan Fox says:

    Hey, any big pharma out there! I’m a man and I want a contraceptive pill for men! Ah, who am I kidding? I don’t have the purchasing power to be listened to. I’ll just have to write fiction where men willingly take responsibility for contraception and hope someone who knows someone who knows someone with a bit of purchasing power reads it and thinks it’s a good idea 🙂 It’s probably got more chance of success than writing to anyone in charge, anyway…

  4. Caliban says:

    I suspect dire economic conditions, coupled with hyped hysteria about “terrorism,” opens a window for this kind of repressive talk. When things are going well few are interested in trying to police society, but when things go bad you start kicking and blaming those you perceive as below you.

    To expand on your note on the irony of humans all-sex all-the-time being unique–“recreational” sex is a key ingredient in the bonding and monogamy the fundamentalists value so highly. But they want fear, not love, to drive human behavior, because they themselves are full of fear.

  5. Athena says:

    Agreed: fear is the tool beloved of demagogues.

  6. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > Anyone with a functioning cortex knew that Rush Limbaugh
    > is a vile slug from the moment he uttered his first nasty lie.
    > His recent comments about accomplished, brave [new world]
    > law student Sandra Fluke are not surprising. . .

    No, not surprising coming from Limbaugh. A little more, shall
    we say, disappointing coming from a self-styled “rationalist”.
    (Interesting theory about what makes Republicans tick, though.)

    http://thelifeofmanquamanonearth.blogspot.com/2012/03/when-lenina-crowne-goes-over-to-dark.html [*]
    —————
    Ugh. I’ve read the following about Sandra Fluke. . .

    This woman wants America’s working, taxpaying beta male chumps
    to pay to keep her Malthusian belt stuffed with contraceptives.
    And people wonder why the Republican Party looks like a revolt
    of society’s beta males against this feminist nonsense.
    —————

    [*] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_New_World
    —————
    “In its first chapters, the novel describes life in the
    World State as wonderful and introduces Lenina Crowne and
    Bernard Marx. Lenina, a hatchery worker, is socially
    accepted and comfortable with her place in society. . .”
    —————

    Oh dear. Ford save us from the One Worlders. And from
    the, uh, hatchery workers.

  7. Kate S says:

    Amen, sister.

    I think men are scared to death that someday all the women in the world will wake up and realize we don’t actually need them, except for procreation. And then where will they be!? Up a creek without a paddle, there’s where!

    What I cannot understand, no matter how much I try, is women who voluntarily let themselves be put in that position, without fighting back. It makes absolutely no sense, and boggles the mind!

  8. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > Ponzi-scheme millionaires who live in gated communities
    > with private security. . .

    Speaking of which, have you heard about this character?

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/03/billionaires-bogus-legal-threats-against-bloggers-threaten-free-speech

  9. Athena says:

    Jim, I haven’t heard of either Manquaman (a fitting handle) or VanderSloot specifically, but I know their ilk; too many like them exist for the well-being of this planet and all its species.

    Kate, my dear, so happy to hear from you! Yes, I can’t understand women who won’t stand by their own either. Of course, some are scared: of violence, of losing jobs, children, stingily-meted-out privileges. Some (examples: Paglia, Roiphe, Coulter, to just name a few) think they’re different from those ugly feminists, the boys like nice girls like them! But what the men like is that they can use them as weapons against other women. When they use them up, they flush them down the toilet and pick up the next willing bimbo.

  10. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > Jim, I haven’t heard of. . . Manquaman (a fitting handle)

    The blog title (“The Life of Man Qua Man on Earth”) is an allusion
    to Ayn Randian ethics:

    http://www.summit.org/resources/essays/the-ethics-of-ayn-rand/
    ——————-
    “the purpose of living a life proper to a rational being — belongs
    to every individual man. . . to live one’s own individual life
    according to rationality, to seek to sustain one’s own individual
    life as ‘man qua man.'”
    ——————-

    The blog’s author is a cryonics enthusiast, an erstwhile
    Extropian, and the guy credited with the first use of the
    term “Singularitarian”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singularitarianism

  11. Athena says:

    Personally, I think a better etymology for his handle is “manquéman” — as in, wants to be manly but doesn’t know the real meaning of the term (see snachismo).

  12. Mephane says:

    “Contrary to Freud’s notorious question, the recurrent problem of civilization, as prevalent today as in ancient Sumer, is how to define male roles which satisfy male egos without wreaking terminal havoc.”

    As a male myself, I must say that I never quite understood this type of ego. Maybe it was my education, but the mere idea of women being kind of inferior seems entirely outlandish to me, and I had never any problems of the kind you are inferring. Though, however, I have observed that many men, indeed, have serious problems with their ego (also see: competitive spirit going overboard into unhealthy levels, something I am also mostly lacking, heh).

    That said, I wholeheartedly agree with this blog post, and I too fear that there are forces that would love to make a leap backwards right into the some kind of middle ages, just with guns and hybrid cars instead of swords and horses…

  13. Friendly Yeti says:

    The Yetis are planning to pay Mr Limbaugh a visit.

  14. r0ck3tsci3ntist says:

    Thank you for taking the time to make these eloquent statements. It’s shocking that we have to go through this sort of thing in this day and age but I suppose this is a reminder that we cannot afford to let our guard down for a moment.

  15. Belle says:

    Great post. Nice to know I’m not alone…

  16. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > I too fear that there are forces that would love to
    > make a leap backwards right into the some kind of
    > middle ages, just with guns and hybrid cars instead
    > of swords and horses…

    Or with starships and robots. **And** swords and horses.
    ;->

  17. Eleni Tsami says:

    Thought-provoking as usual.

    I’m noticing the woman-hating trend becoming more prominent due to societal stress, and find it worrying. The only consolation I have is that I don’t believe it to be something inextricably linked to the sexes themselves, nor their ‘archetypical’ behaviour. People (men and women both) who cannot think for themselves will always want to bash those they deem inferior when times are troubled. It is plainly unfortunate that women have been traditionally designated as inferior.

  18. Athena says:

    Pardon the silence, everyone — the site was hacked two days ago, and it took a drastic cleanup to get it back scrubbed and intact.

    Mephane, Mr. Yeti, Kathryn, Belle, Eleni, thank you for the wonderful words. I wish I didn’t have to write articles like this ever again; as Joanna Russ said, being a feminist is not a fun thing we choose. It chooses us: it’s a choice between speaking out or being ground to fine dust.

  19. intrigued_scribe says:

    Astonishing that even in the present, there are backwards thinkers who would love to drive society into regressing.

    Eloquent, excellent post.

  20. Athena says:

    Thank you, Heather! As I said earlier, it’s dispiriting to think we still need to discuss things like this.