Friday, February 1, 2013

Socialist Action on Virginity!

I have to weigh in on Socialist Action's recent post about virginity, of all things. The article (by Dawn Rose) is a review of Jessica Valenti's 2009 book entitled The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women. I have not read that book, but I'll assume that Rose's description is accurate.

The book is in response to a supposed effort by conservatives and "anti-feminists" to roll back women's rights. According to Valenti (per Rose), we right-wingers want women who are docile, passive, and obedient, and focus on traditional motherhood. In a word, we want "a return to traditional gender roles (marriage and motherhood), and focusing on purity is the vehicle toward that end.”

Now I have no doubt that there are conservative religious groups focused on virginity, and for just the reasons Rose describes. But their battle is lost. They will never persuade more than an insignificant minority of women to follow their lead. So this whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. Or rather, it was an effort to create a bogeyman--a fictitious enemy designed to scare the living daylights out of single women. That somewhat dishonest end seems to be Valenti's purpose in writing the book, and the Obama 2012 election campaign used the mostly mythical Republican threat to abortion and birth control as part of its successful GOTV effort.

But let's ignore the dubious motives and consider only the arguments made in Rose's review. She states "[t]he virginity movement’s ideal woman is passive, docile, and relegated to the home." Now this doesn't make any sense, for I can't see how self-discipline leads to passive docility. Self-discipline in almost anything generally leads to success of some sort. Students who study hard get good grades. Those who don't eat too much keep their weight down. People who save money are generally richer in retirement, and so forth.

Ascetic self-discipline has a long history in human affairs, and demonstrates success for both individuals and social groups. Among individuals, the odd example that comes immediately to mind is Malcolm X. He, a libertine in his youth, upon conversion to (the weird form of) Islam gave up womanizing, alcohol, and general carousing. Would his political career have been successful absent that self-discipline? Certainly not. Other political examples include Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Contrast them with Bill Clinton, successful to be sure, but not heroic nor in any way a figure for the ages. Future generations will not be celebrating Bill Clinton's birthday.

So I dispute the notion that virginity will result in docility or passivity. Are nuns passive and docile? I don't think so.

Rose writes
If women are the moral gatekeepers of sex, Valenti claims, then the behaviors of men are excusable; rape, sexual assault and violence against women are natural male responses to biological urges. We see this manifested often through victim blaming. The media reporting around sexual violence is often centered on women’s behavior—what she was wearing, what she was drinking, or where she was walking—rather than on the actions of the actual perpetrators.
Let's leave out the word "moral," and ask who are the gatekeepers of sex? For very obvious biological reasons (that only socialists can deny), women are. Women take by far the biggest risk from any sexual encounter. Unlike men, women are not generally interested in casual sex, and absent some financial or other tangible reward won't do that.

Since women are the gatekeepers, rape and sexual assault are crimes men commit against women, and rarely the other way round. This is not some cultural oddity of American society (as the article seems to imply), but is a worldwide phenomenon rooted in human biology. But it doesn't mean such behavior is excusable. All societies punish rape, often very severely and unjustly.

The last claim--that the press reports what rape victims wore--is surely laughable. How politically incorrect could you possibly get? I have never, in my entire life, read a news article that contained anything like "she was raped because she wore a mini-skirt." Still, dress and drink are relevant. Rape is a crime no matter what, but gatekeepers do need to guard the gate. Camille Paglia has interesting things to say about that.

I think whether or not a woman remains a virgin until marriage is a personal decision, and not a political one. I have no objection to either religious conservatives or Jessica Valenti offering free advice. I do object to words like "reactionary" used to describe a woman who chooses to remain virgin. It may very well be a good option for her.

Why are so many on the Left against traditional morality? I doubt it is political. Instead, I think it is envy. Among the groups that gets the Leftist goat are the Mormons. Now I don't much care for them either, but there is no gainsaying their success. By holding to a tight moral code, they preserve and expand social and physical capital. They have among the highest fertility rates in the nation. They're successful in business, and increasingly successful in politics. Success inspires envy and hatred.

Other groups--some evangelical Christians, orthodox Jews, Amish, some Muslim groups--are similarly able to both reproduce and preserve social capital. This feat is mostly impossible for single mothers, who usually only have one or two children, and for whom capital appreciation is a lost cause. A subgroup amongst this population are socialists and academic feminists, who then blame their plight on a so-called "virginity movement."

I feel sorry for them.

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