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Lisa Miller Is A Dupe

November 10, 2009

I’m about to be unfair. The Democrats threw women under the bus and made the already pathetic state of access to a medical procedure that is a constitutional right and that one in three women will have even worse than it already is. Because mainstream Dems don’t care about women. I’m so angry, and so much has been said about the Stupak Coathanger amendment that I don’t feel I have much to add. So I’m looking for a target for free-floating antimisogynist anger, and Lisa Miller presented herself by saying something appallingly stupid. So … I’m taking it out on her. If it’s any consolation, I’ll stay mad for a long time; probably as long as I have a daughter, a wife and a sister living in this world. I’ll be unfair to lots of other people who say stupid antifeminist things.

What did Miller say that was so stupid? Using Newsweek as her podium, she said:

True Love Revolution might do better, then, to leave aside the divisive and wrongheaded “one man, one woman” language and help guide students through this modern sexual wilderness. And though it is not a religious group, it has religious underpinnings, and it might look to religion for some of the most thoughtful (and, perhaps, useful) analyses of how liberated women and men can reasonably opt out of sex—or, at least, the kind of sex they don’t want to have.

What’s so stupid about that? TLR is the Harvard abstinence group. Recently, they came out of the closet as the hateful bigots they are:

Recently the group has drawn fresh ire because it added to its mission statement, which had formerly supported sexual abstinence as a lifestyle choice, a platform that seemed calculated to ignite a culture war on campus. The new statement asserted that sex outside of marriage is “harmful to both parties”; it embraced “traditional marriage” (that is, not gay marriage); and it argued that choosing abstinence is “true feminism” in that “it recognizes the natural characteristics, strengths, and abilities of women and seeks to affirm them in this identity.”

So they admitted that what they are after is marriage for heteros only, and sex only in marriage. They follow the ancient theological principle of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” first enunciated in a second-century Greek text that, miraculously, translated into a rhyming couplet. (Remember that part in the New Testament where Jesus talks about homosexuality? No, me neither.)

None of us who actually pay attention to the purity movement (see generally Jessica Valenti’s Purity Myth, probably the best one-stop shop for facts and analysis on this)* are at all surprised. There is no meaningful secular abstinence preaching, because it doesn’t work. There is no religious left abstinence preaching, because when the religious left talks sexuality, they approach it in a holistic fashion, with information, and with values that don’t sound like someone’s grandfather yapping, “when I was your age, women kept their legs closed!”
And that’s just what Miller sounds like. She writes:

I went to college in the early 1980s, when feminist arguments like Kovvali’s [that consensual sex is not degrading] were as ordinary as air: I think True Love Revolution is on to something. … Although the actual amount of sex college students are having may not be as high as parents fear—nearly 80 percent of college students report having had one or no sexual partners in the past year—students say the hookup culture is dominant and oppressive.

As I’ve said before, I think anybody ought to be able to say no to any kind of sex with anyone, anytime for any reason or no reason. So if students at Harvard are having sex and are miserable about it, that’s a real concern and I’m all ears about addressing it. Surely, if such a thing were in evidence, Miller could have cited it. But she can’t. Instead, she comes up with evidence that contradicts her argument, presents it as if it is support, and goes right on rambling. Here’s her “evidence”:

A G-rated example: “I am a conservative Christian. I am going mad with sexual desire. FML.”

That’s it. On Harvard FML, a conservative Christian is complaining about being horny all the time. No evidence of any sexual activity, let alone unwanted sexual activity. Further, no evidence that anything in the Harvard social environment caused this Christian to be horny. It might be … normal teenage hormones.

In fact, Miller all but admits she is full of shit:

Although the actual amount of sex college students are having may not be as high as parents fear—nearly 80 percent of college students report having had one or no sexual partners in the past year—students say the hookup culture is dominant and oppressive.

Which students? The FML Christian. That’s it.

There’s no logical route from “some Christian kid wants sex and isn’t having it and is intolerably horny” to “the culture of sex at Harvard is oppressive.” There is a hopeless series of leaps in there. What one might infer is that for conservative Christian teens, remaining abstinent is tough and a support group is a good idea. But TLR is not a support group. It’s an advocacy organization. They are actively trying to recruit others to their lifestyle. (Why is it only a problem if the pro-sex folks do that?)

All this is in the service of Miller’s point:

And though [TLR] is not a religious group, it has religious underpinnings, and it might look to religion for some of the most thoughtful (and, perhaps, useful) analyses of how liberated women and men can reasonably opt out of sex—or, at least, the kind of sex they don’t want to have…Teaching kids that saying no can feel as good as saying yes—that’s a revolution.

But TLR doesn’t want kids to know that saying no and saying yes are equally valid choices, and that both are fulfilling. Their purpose is to tell women — not really men, see Jessica’s book — that they will be used tape, used lollypops, and plucked flowers if they say yes. They are not preaching agency, they are preaching abstinence. They are not in favor of autonomy, they are in favor of restriction.

If Miller doesn’t get this, she’s a complete dupe and not worthy of a high-profile column in Newsweek. If she does get it, then she is actively participating in TRL’s charade, using “respect” for women as a stalking horse for an agenda to restrict sexual conduct. I said above that I was being unfair — in fact, maybe I’m being too fair.

*And I don’t just say that because she’s my editor and my friend.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendell permalink
    November 10, 2009 1:20 pm

    Your second-to-last paragraph is spot-on.

    The crap about “true feminism” and “the natural characteristics, strengths, and abilities of women” is so bereft of thought that I’m kinda flipping out. So much for historical and cultural contexts affecting anyone’s “characteristics, strengths, and abilities.”

    Just venting, not to change the subject: I saw the Stupak Coathanger amendment (excellent moniker, btw) covered on Maddow last night and then I saw Roeder’s statements in the paper today. Insults for the latter are too good for him. Life sans parole, please. Did I mention I’m angry? The fact that Tiller did so many other important things for women’s health, too, is lost on these extremists.

  2. November 12, 2009 6:37 am

    I do think she’s right in that a lot of college students are not having sex, and yet they’re being given this idea that part of the college experience means random hook-ups and if you haven’t lost your virginity by 19, you’re a loser. But groups like TLR are not helping the matter; they’re making it worse. Considering that 95% of people today DO have sex outside of marriage, chances are the majority of those 80% of college students who have had <1 sexual partner in the past year are holding off from sex for reasons other than "it's wrong to have sex before marriage."

    The other problem is that TLR and such groups don't make it easier to be a virgin as much as they promote the idea that there's only one reason one would choose to be a virgin in college – saving oneself for marriage, because of religion – because without Jesus, we're all so filled with lust that we can't resist our carnal urges. So anyone else who is a virgin falls into "loser who can't get any" or "repressed beyond belief" or some other such category, where there's something inherently wrong that's keeping them from having sex. Because, obviously, they really really really wanna get laid, right? I mean, who doesn't?

    I have to deal with this stigma all the time, as a 19-year-old college student who hasn't had sex, but is an agnostic and thus clearly isn't one of the "purity pledge people." I can't tell you how many times I've been told I should stop waiting to get into a relationship with a guy I care about, and "just get laid." I'm a gender & sexuality minor, so sex is no mystery to me and in some ways I'm more educated about it than my sexually-active friends. However, there's this assumption that because I haven't had sex yet, and I'm not particularly eager to have it simply for the sake of "getting laid," I'm somehow repressed about sex. And that unsatisfying sex with someone I'm not interested in is somehow going to change this.

    In short, college students who are virgins do need a place for support, but groups like TLR are giving the wrong kind. Most of us aren't necessarily proud, much less hoity-toity and finger-wagging, about our virginity, and thus aren't interested in shoving our message down other students' throats. And abstinence groups tie lack of sex too clearly to religion and to marriage, when for most students who aren't currently sexually-active, those aren't the reasons. I think the point is more that we need a group that teaches us not to be proud, but simply to be not-ashamed, if we're not having sex, and to promote the idea that being sexually progressive means accepting those who choose not to have it as having more complex sexualities than simply religious nut, social outcast, or repressed.

    • November 12, 2009 6:42 am

      I wanted to clarify that I’m not trying to demonize sex outside of relationships just because I make it clear that’s not what I want. That’s a personal preference; I’m a very private person, so I generally need to really trust someone before I let them sleep with me. However, I know not everyone is like this, and since I’ve entertained notions before of sex with people I’m not dating, I understand how liberating it can be for others.

      By “sex for the sake of getting laid,” I mean the sort of sex some of my friends encourage I have, where I sleep with someone I’m only marginally interested in just so I can say “I did it!” Which to me, doesn’t sound very fulfilling. I wasn’t trying to say that sex outside of relationships all falls into that category. Obviously, one doesn’t need to be dating someone else to be strongly attracted to them, or for the sex to be satisfying.

      • osoborracho permalink
        November 13, 2009 7:01 am

        Salome, your experiences sound similar to those of someone I know. During high school and college one of my friends was harassed, called gay, and jokingly(?!) encouraged to seek drunk girls to rape because he hadn’t had sex yet. He was so completely grossed out that he actively avoided dating or having sex for years, partly to spite the friends and partly because he was traumatized by the pressure. (I hope your friends are more supportive.)

        Ironically, most of the guys harassing him to have “sex for the sake of getting laid” weren’t getting laid much themselves, if at all. They might have been jealous that he didn’t care about getting laid, or because there were people actually hitting on him. I thought it was rather odd that a bunch of hetero boys cared so much about what our friend did with his penis, and what size it was. I tried to be as supportive as possible and figured he’d have sex if and when he wanted to. No point if you aren’t interested, right?

        When he later chose to become sexual, it was with the “fat feminazi whore” (me!) so that was also unacceptable. He was denied agency either way. One friend even commented “she (I) must have raped him,” because the idea that he was attracted to me was MORE horrifying, apparently. Needless to say, we found new friends.

        Back to topic, I agree that colleges (and high schools) need non-religious support for virgins. I started having sex at 17, but experienced some harassment before then. I’m a kinky atheist, but I’m still picky. Sex shouldn’t be a rite of passage or a wedding present, just a pleasurable bonding activity if you feel like the time and person are right and they reciprocate those feelings. Kissing +++?

    • November 12, 2009 12:16 pm

      Thanks for chiming in, Salome. Your perspective is needed. Freedom to be sexual is only freedom when it is just as much freedom not to be sexual. That choice cannot be derided as bizarre or pathological, or the “freedom” becomes obligation.

      Virgin is a meaningless term and a meaningless concept. It arises from ideas about property that should be discarded but that stubbornly hang on; experience is a continuum and sexual conduct ought to be a series of choices taken based on preferences.

      I keep wanting to do a post about the flip side of fetishizing virginity, which is the devaluation and isolation of actual virgins who don’t fit the script. I’ll write it sometime soon.

  3. Wendell permalink
    November 13, 2009 11:19 pm

    Salome, thank you for that perspective. I’d slot myself in with the de-/repression set, so it’s easy for me to forget that there’s another way of looking at/living it.

    Thomas, maybe your post could be a guest blog by Salome?🙂 She put things in an easy-to-understand way, at least for me.

    osoborracho, so sorry about those ex-friends’ horrid gender role policing. The last line of your post should be spoken in every sex-ed class ever. Your phrase “wedding present” is so succinct!

    • osoborracho permalink
      November 20, 2009 5:47 am

      Thanks- the ex-friends were horrid in many ways, so I don’t miss them. Current friends are fantastic.

      Unfortunately, family is harder to replace- I didn’t mention that my poor friend/later partner’s own mother was also pressuring him to go to school dances he had no interest in, find a date, etc. It wasn’t verbal abuse like it was from the friends, but it crossed the line from encouragement to request. Of course, I wasn’t what she had in mind for a grandchild maker and she wanted him to date other women. I keep telling him he should have mentioned the woman we took on several dates and had a threesome with.😄

      I guess the moral is don’t bother dating/humping only to please your friends/family, they’ll probably keep complaining. Might as well date/hump only for yourself and then at least you’ll be happy.

    • osoborracho permalink
      November 20, 2009 5:50 am

      I wish I could teach or write the curriculum for sex-ed programs.😦

  4. November 16, 2009 5:58 am

    Thanks everyone for your positive feedback! Wendell, I don’t know if I could pull off a guest post here but it would be fun to try🙂

    When I think about this idea of “sex as a right of passage,” it reminds me of an experience in the ninth grade. I had just gotten back from camp, and was disappointed that I couldn’t find a date to the camp dance, and that all my friends had danced with boys and I hadn’t yet. So one of my friends encouraged me to go up to a random boy and just ask, and said everything would be okay. I “didn’t even have to like him.” So when I got back to school, I did just that at our school’s “welcome back” dance; I asked a boy I barely knew (we were in orchestra together, but that was all I knew about him) who I thought was sort-of, but not especially, cute, to dance with me. He said yes. Awesome, right?

    Well, no – we both felt like loads of awkward and he bolted within about a minute of dancing. It didn’t even feel like an insult that he did; I had been hoping the experience would end soon too. So I could tell my friends I had “slow-danced with a boy,” but the experience hardly lived up to the hype, to the extent that I wish I had never asked in the first place.

    And this is perhaps why I’m critical of my friends’ suggestions that I “just get laid.” I wonder how different my experience would have been if I had waited longer to ask a guy I at least was somewhat attracted to for my “first slow dance,” rather than “getting it out of the way” with a guy I barely knew or cared about just so I could tell my friends I’d done it. I don’t want my first sexual experience to be like my first dancing experience. I want to be able to enjoy it fully, and not just wait for it to be over so I can tell my friends. And so, I want it to be with someone I care about, whom I find attractive, and at a time when I truly feel ready for it – not just ASAP with whomever is nearest just to be able to say I’m not a virgin anymore.

    • osoborracho permalink
      November 20, 2009 4:36 am

      That all made perfect sense to me. Don’t need to wait for “True Wuv,” but there needs to be some kind of desire there. “Just get(ing) laid” would probably be about as fun as your awkward dance was. Keep waiting for an encounter you’re actually interested in.😄

      • Wendell permalink
        November 22, 2009 11:07 pm

        There seems to be a sort of cynicism behind urging others to “just get laid,” but I can’t tell if I just don’t have the words to describe it, or if it’s from my own standpoint/baggage.

        I like that you brought up the word “desire,” oso, because it can have so many dimensions to it depending on the person.

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