It’s been a while since I said this, so it’s time for a booster shot: I really hate “framing”. It’s a sell-out that leads to people making their opponents’ arguments for them, as they try to bend over backwards to see it through the oppositions’ eyes. It’s far, far better to see your own position clearly and try to explain it well to others.
I was reminded of that by this excellent point made by Amanda: that in the process of trying to reach a subsidiary goal, making contraception available to all, many liberals are conceding a larger, more important point to the conservatives and buying into their dogma that sex is evil.
All that said, I want to be clear that it’s not enough to be outraged at the anti-contraception shit and take it as a given that it’s way out of bounds. I mean, it seems obvious that it is, but without an aggressive counterattack from the left, right wingers may gain ground in their attempts to redefine the over 99% of women in the country who have sex for fun and not just for procreation as sluts. We need to frame our arguments as a full-throated, unapologetic belief that sex is good, women are good, and women’s right to enjoy sexual pleasure without shaming or government interference is good. Unfortunately, I’m not seeing enough of that. Instead, the most important argument—that a woman has a right to be a sexual creature and that sex is good—being abandoned by all sorts of liberals and feminists. The most common form this concession takes is well-meaning, and often person conceding the argument that women who have sex for pleasure are somehow less-than don’t intend to concede it. But that’s nonetheless what they’re doing. That concession looks like this:
"Some women aren’t even taking the birth control pill for contraception! They need it for cramps/endometriosis/etc."
Every time you say this, a right winger wanting to imply that women who have sex for pleasure are sluts gets his wings. This statement and all variations on it feeds into the right wing claim that a) contraception is not health care and b) that women who have sex for pleasure are so indefensible that you have to lean on off-label uses for a contraceptive drug to justify its existence. It also does absolutely nothing to defend the non-pill contraception that’s covered by the health care act, such as IUDs or sterilization. Plus, that gives them an easy out, which is to say that they’re fine with insurance covering pills that are prescribed for non-contraception use, but just object to prescriptions for women who use them to prevent pregnancy.
It’s a very political argument to make, very short-sighted and damaging in the long run, but I can understand why people do it. You’ve got an immediate political battle to win, the defeat of a bill that strangles access to contraception. So you take the typical approach of your everyday social primate with a theory of mind: you imagine the world through your opponent’s eyes, and then you try to frame your arguments to take into account his or her values, to find reasons that they would find compelling. Unfortunately, what it accomplishes more than anything is to make particularly odious attitudes commonplace…and it makes the next fight harder.
Our problem isn’t a few bills in state legislatures. It’s the whole deeply imbedded, constantly reinforced notion that good women are sexless and chaste, while bad girls are the ones who enjoy sex and actually have sex with more partners than just the one man who owns her. That’s why those right-wingers are getting their wings: because every time we implicitly accept that premise, we dig our progressive goals a slightly deeper grave.
And oh, how deeply this poison is infiltrating our culture! The other night, I was watching Much Ado About Nothing, the Branagh version. I very much like part of the story — the banter between Benedick and Beatrice is wonderful — but another part, the relationship between Claudio, a dashing soldier, and Hero, the beautiful young bride-to-be, is horrifying. Claudio is tricked by the villain (played by Keanu Reeves, unbelievably) into thinking that Hero was playing around with another man on the side…and then he waits until the hour of the wedding to publicly shame and humiliate this woman he supposedly loves with all of his heart.
Sweet prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.
There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.
What do you mean, my lord?
Not to be married,
Not to knit my soul to an approved wanton.
It’s a terrible scene, full of Shakespearean viciousness, and all of the contempt and hatred falls on poor Hero for her supposed licentiousness. And then, of course, the true villains are exposed and her true and good chastity vindicated. The resolution was just as appalling as the accusation, because it simply endorses Claudio’s behavior, that it’s perfectly reasonable to scorn and despise a woman if she’d ever shown passion for another human being.
Just once, it would be nice if the heroine turned out to be a lusty, experienced sexual partner and the moment of revelation, in which the horrible accusations are shown to be base and dishonest, didn’t involve showing she was innocent of the crime of sex, but instead involved the man realizing that he loved her anyway, and that there was nothing wrong with a woman enjoying sex…and realizing that the wedding night was going to be phenomenal (for him, if not for her; in the play, Claudio also brags about his abstinence, so I suspect he’s going to be a bit of a disappointment.)
But no, we keep perpetuating this view. We keep supporting the men and women and religions and other institutions that make sure young people are ignorant and ashamed — we look the other way or don’t even see it as a problem ourselves, but it’s really just another kind of child abuse. Let’s keep the children terrified of hell, ashamed of their bodies, and disgusted by their sexual feelings…because, by god, that’s how our parents raised us, and no way are those little brats going to grow up to find joy in what has been denied us!
I favor making contraception available to all because I think everyone should be able to have happy, safe, consensual sex. It’s also a nice bonus that some forms of contraception alleviate menstrual problems or side-effects like migraines, but it’s dishonest and bad framing to pretend that those are the real reasons we should encourage sex education, or insist that health insurance cover prophylaxis, and every time we sweep the most important issue of happy sexy time under the rug, we are pandering to the prudish conservatives.
And don’t get me started on that abortion slogan of “safe, legal, and rare”: I want abortion to be safe, legal, and available as often as women need or want it.