Great one-liners you’ll never see outside of the feminist blogosphere

Echidne:  “Rick Santorum has the most open mind of the late twelfth century.”  Feel the Santormentum! 

I wish I were teaching the history of sexuality course this semester that I co-taught last semester.  I would really love to hear about my students’ reactions to fact that birth control has suddenly become a major campaign issue both in the Republican nomination fight and perhaps even in Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

I think it might underscore the argument I made to them towards the end of the class last term that my college years in the late 1980s and early 1990s were in fact a freer time sexually from a feminist standpoint than many young women today enjoy.  I might rightly be accused of letting nostalgia color my views here, but when I was in college, there was no question but 1) that we were sexually active if we wanted to be, and that this was seen as a positive and healthy aspect of life, 2) that we would use one or more forms of birth control, and 3) that abortion was a  rational and responsible choice rather than a shameful one.

25 thoughts on “Great one-liners you’ll never see outside of the feminist blogosphere

  1. Having grown up non-Catholic in a very Catholic community, I recall, in high school, the many conversations about birth control with my Catholic friends. The general consensus, which must have come from their parents, was that many used the “rhythm method” if they didn’t use other birth control. All of the parents did SOME sort of family planning. And college was certainly a place of expected sexual experimentation, not a place where celibacy was expected, even if everyone wasn’t having sex. Our freshman kits (given to all incoming students) had condoms and dental dams included. We had “date rape” prevention classes within the first few days of orientation.

    This whole conversation feels like a HUGE slide backward — but to where, I don’t know. And come on — those who study the middle ages know that the church set up brothels so that imperfect clerics could have sex. The church might have been misogynistic, but it wasn’t, for the time, unrealistic about the realities of sex and desire — at least for men and certain (bad) women — who certainly were NEVER supposed to bear children (ie. were supposed to use some form of birth control). Does Santorum really want something MORE medieval than the middle ages?


  2. I don’t mean anything cynical about the scare quotes around date rape above. The classes were just specifically about date rape, not rape in general.


  3. Joellecid–I think you’re about my age, and your experience sounds very familiar. It seems to me–looking back as a historian–that the AIDS crisis ca. 1985 (Rock Hudson’s death) to 1994, when protease inhibitors were invented, actually inspired more honesty about sexuality that benefited not just gay but straight youth as well. It was a scary time, and because there was no long-term management plan for people with HIV/AIDS, I think those of us who were teenagers and young adults benefited from the fact that our sex lives had become a major public health issue in those years. (We didn’t get condoms or dental dams in our freshman kits, but there were great bowls full of them available at any hour of the day or night.)

    And Dame Eleanor, Bardiac, and Joellecid, I think you’re all correct that Echidne is perhaps too harsh on the 12th C! I’m sure Bardiac in particular is correct that menstrual regulation/abortifacients were widely available (if not always super-effective).


  4. I dunno. I don’t think it was a more open time for my non-straight friends. And honestly, where I went to college, it might have been a time of liberty for straight folk, but it not an informed liberty.

    I attended college in a conservative western town (that is, not a coastal metropolis) during the mid/late 80s and we did not have great bowls full of condoms and dental dams. We did have a lot of open hostility centered around what little HIV education was taking place. The biology professor who taught HIV seminars for local health professionals was subject to threats and whatever public education material was posted by open minded faculty was quickly taken down by others. I lived in a dorm for a year and we certainly never had any exposure to safe sex information, rape awareness, or anything of the kind. None of us lived under rocks but still, the lack of message came across loud and clear.


  5. I was thinking of the late 70s early 80s for getting birth control etc. But thanks for making me seem way smarter than I am!

    And I agree with Trufulla: it was easier for straight young adults; still is, alas. But I grew up very coastally, and finished college right as HIV/AIDS was beginning to be identified and figured out.


  6. Sorry–given your period of specialization, I thought you were chiming in with Dame Eleanor! But, yeah: the 1970s & 80s work there too.

    I too agree that the 1980s-90s weren’t all that great for gay college students. Things seem really different now, as I notice there are a lot more out students now than 20-25 years ago. But because of conversations about the possible risk of AIDS back in the day, straight students too benefited by the open conversations about sex. We all understood that it was sex with men–gay sex or straight sex–that posed the risk, hence the bowls full of condoms, etc.


  7. I’m just alarmed at the fact that Santorum’s theocratic vision of America is taken seriously by so many people.

    And as for the whole “Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t go to support something that is against someone’s religious beliefs,” let me just say: military spending, anyone?

    Oh, wait. Only a fraction of the population are practitioners of a religion that prohibits participation in the military, on the grounds that all violence is equally bad. And since they’re only a small minority, they need to suck it up for the good of the whole.

    Oh, wait.


  8. Santorum is a single point on a line that started way before him and will, probably, end way in the future. Sadly, I am in no position to comment on sexuality in the 80s; I already had two kids and no fondness for cheating. Yet, Santorum’s reactionary line is not and was not restricted to sex. It leads to wars, as mentioned above, less democracy, more poor and more.

    Let’s remember that the current middle agers will darken everything.


  9. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that abortion was seen – in general – as a “rational and responsible choice rather than a shameful one” in the early to mid-90s in the midwest (When and where I was in college). Not in terms of public discourse. I think it was seen as something “irresponsible girls had recourse to do, and should, in fact, be ashamed of having not prevented.”

    I do think that you’re right, though, that birth control was not seen as optional – the idea was that you’d at the very least be using condoms (because you could
    DIE), and if you were “smart” you’d be on the pill AND using condoms (because you worse than dying would be to get pregnant when you don’t want to). Not getting pregnant was seen as a “good thing” for sure when I was in college (and, yes, the assumption was that you’d be having sex and that this was normal and not a problem), but I’m not so sure that abortion was something that people would acknowledge in anything other than shame-ridden (or judgment-ridden) whispers, if it was acknowledged at all.

    And all the people I know who are happily out now, that I knew through my teen and college years, did not have an easy time of it from 1985 through probably the late 90s. Again, I was located in a state with corn, and that likes a Republican governor a whole lot. So this may well not track across the whole county or across all people at that time.


  10. In some ways, though, the new dispensation has made dating and mating more difficult for men and for women than the old. The GOP culture-warriors may be playing to that sentiment, although their tone-deafness shows.


  11. I remember going to a campus forum on abortion in 1986 or so sponsored by the God Squad (evangelical division), the social justice God Squad (Catholic division – largely first generation US), and the wymyn’s center. The consensus seemed to be that nobody was really in favor of abortions for the sake of having abortions. Everybody seemed in favor of birth control with some provisions for abstinence education for the religiously inclined. Condoms were very in because we had just gotten the word on condoms and AIDS prevention. Now granted, these were not typical evangelicals (they had chosen to attend a Quaker school after all) and consensus was valued. It was all very civilized and calm and Quakerly. One of the pro-choice folks, was IIRC, a woman a year ahead of me who had given up a baby for adoption during HS (very Quinn from Glee).


  12. Dr. Crazy: you’re right that some of these things will be (as truffula also suggested), regional and college or uni-dependent. I attended a very lefty small college in the East, so that made a difference, I am sure. And too, I think the whole pregnancy thing is colored by class: where I went to school, it was just not acceptable to be pregnant in college.

    That said: I never knew anyone who had an abortion in college, because we were responsible and on birth control, and we damn sure knew we could get the off-label morning-after pills at the student health center.


  13. I have definitely seen the shift that Historiann talks about. While I agree, too, that the trend affects straight and non-straight folks differently (and I think things are clearly better now for non-straight, non gender conforming folks, as slight an improvement as it may be), I would argue that the way the right has shifted the entire political-economic discourse has applied equally to sexuality and women’s bodies. Nothing of the left has been able to combat the right’s brilliant use of various discourse to shift the debate so incrementally, people weren’t outraged about it. First it was convincing pro-choice people about “partial birth abortions”, then that ultrasounds were actually for the benefit of women seeking abortions, then the various way they colonized society with that insidious “religious conscience” objection to every from Catholic hospitals offering rape victims the morning after pill to Walmart pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions. This is just the latest iteration of all that coming to a head. When I was in a graduate seminar in the mid 90s we were talking about abortions – feminists all us, and all the students were cagey and hesitant and all “Yeah, I know, it’s *difficult* and *painful* with all these emotional repercussions”; the prof was horrified. She was of the Roe v. Wade generation and she said flat out, I had an abortion and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Our jaws hit the floor, because none of us had ever heard a conversation about abortion that wasn’t framed somehow in the horror and tragedy of it. Even pro-choice feminist people started adopting that framing and vocabulary. I hadn’t realized until that very moment that I’d been brainwashed, that we’d all been brainwashed by the mid-90s into viewing abortion as something that was legally necessarily but morally or psychologically or emotionally fraught. That’s all they need, the pro-life folks, that tiny foothold (exemplified perfectly in their overwhelming success in the partial birth abortion campaign) to start cracking away at the foundations of reproductive freedom and female bodily autonomy.


  14. Perpetua – absolutely! As George Lakoff pointed out, the religious right have been marketing geniuses for the last 20 years or so, in their understanding of the intersections between linguistics and ideologies. They know that if you corner the market on key terms and concepts, you make it effectively impossible to think outside those frameworks. They’ve done this with abortion, as you eloquently point out – even the most ardent pro-choicers almost automatically use the language of shame, torment, identity-defining tragedy, etc. (Hence the importance of projects like Baumgartner’s “I’m Not Sorry”.) Even the word “life” – in almost any context – becomes infused with religious reverence and therefore an anti-choice stance (do you remember Safeway’s ad campaign, “ingredients for Life”? I swear that was political ploy).

    On this and many other issues I agree that women are experiencing a prolonged backlash. It’s all the more pernicious because the choices they make under increased constraints are believed to be freely-made choices (the problem with “choice feminism”). Women opt out of careers because they choose to! they are hormonally predisposed to nest and to eschew competitive environments! Young white hetero women all have identical long straight hair because they choose it! Women want babies and when they have them they choose to focus on nothing else!

    Personally, as a queer, things have improved for me materially and culturally. But I think feminist straight women have it harder than they did 20 years ago. When I was a young women, my gender presentation did not automatically mark me as queer – women had all kinds of hair and clothing styles that were considered acceptable. As a kid I played with toy cars and climbed trees without too much adult ‘correction’. This was in the UK, but I think things were similar here, based on conversations with friends. Now, the constraints on normative feminine expression are considerably greater, and I count myself lucky to be out of that particular ideological economy (even though there’s a certain amount of femme fetishising going on among women who love women).


  15. I wonder if the backlash is also fueled by the religious right’s realization that they have *lost* a lot of ground over the last 30 years. Most Catholics ignore the Church on birth control; condoms and all kinds of fun lube are available at my grocery store; most people under 45 see no problem with gay people and gay marriage. The best way to rattle the cage of my college’s self-proclaimed “embattled conservative” is to display any form of female independent sexuality, which happens regularly.

    That said, I also see at my SLAC the social enforcement of female sexual subservience, and I think that gay students here have a rougher time of it than I did in the mid-1980s. College culture makes as much of a difference as geography: I attended a Midwestern but very liberal SLAC, and now teach at an East Coast but more conservative SLAC. Anyway, the political attacks on women are sickening.


  16. Thanks, Perpetua–that just about sums up my perspective. I too remember being scolded by a Second-Waver about the apologias for abortion popular in my/our generation.

    Northern Barbarian, I think you’re right about the losses the right has obvs. suffered. I am just getting tired of cherchez les femmes as the default response mode. Anxious about the Reformation? Blame the women–all of them, the prostitutes AND the nuns AND the slutty married women! Troubled by the Age of Revolution? Round up the women and get them out of the public square. Yay for emancipation! Now, about all that female loaferism. . . . etc.

    I think it’s interesting that you think gay students have it more difficult. That would be the one thing I would say had definitely changed for the better. Even at my current uni, there are a large number of out women & men, and trans students too. But I totally see LouMac’s point about the range of acceptable gender performances for straight women being narrowed.

    I loved this in particular: Young white hetero women all have identical long straight hair because they choose it! For the past 10 years, I feel like I’ve been teaching in a Mod Squad episode when it comes to white women’s hair. And in the American West, long hair is kind of a regional identity statement for many grizzled men as well as older women. (Lots of guys with unkempt gray ponytails!)


  17. The thing I find frustrating about the abortion/birth control conversation is that it is all about “youth” and preventing the youth from having sex. I had an abortion in the 1980s – I was a youth (and using birth control) and I remember sitting in the recovery room afterwards with a group of women who had all just had abortions too. And you know what? I was the only youth. All the women had been using some form of birth control, most were married and all already had 2-4 children and just could not feasibly see themselves as being able to afford having any more. My point being that the Right has changed the conversation but more importantly they’ve eluded the real problem. It’s not about reckless youth having too much sex.


  18. This is a really good point, anonymous. The fact of the matter is that it’s not just “slutty” young girls getting abortions–it’s adult women, married women, and women who are frequently already mothers who choose abortions.

    The other thing that the right doesn’t want to talk about, and that the left seems too afraid to broach, is the fact that so-called pro-life women get abortions, too.* And then they go back into their faith communities and rail against the slutty slutty slut sluts who are “killing their children,” after having enjoyed a safe, clean, legal and therefore regulated abortion.

    *A friend of mine used to perform abortions in this state, and she told me that fully 1/3 of her patients had notes on their charts that they had religious and/or moral objections to the procedure, but guess what? They demanded their abortions anyway.

    But acknowledging the universality and the complexity of which women get abortions and why is difficult, and slut-shaming is sooooo easy!!!


  19. Pingback: In which I explain my hairstyle to others on the basis of my submission to authority, or, let’s talk about hair and history. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  20. Pingback: In which I explain my hairstyle to others on the basis of my submission to authority, or, let’s talk about hair and history. | Historiann

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