yes, mr. friess, american women are “preoccupied by sex”
Birth control is not a proper political or government activity, function or responsibility… it is not our business. [i]
Does this statement seem to ring of recent headlines? It’s actually President Dwight D. Eisenhower speaking in 1959 (yup), and if you thought the 1950s were shockingly conservative, you should know that even then, Eisenhower’s take made headlines as an example of a conservative’s ‘last stand’ against reproductive freedom.
But here we are more than 50 years later, and it’s all over the news. Again. What’s shocking is not so much that we are “back in the fifties,” as so many commentators would have it, but that right-wingers are culling their so-called ‘values’ from the very darkest, shadowiest places of that era, sugar-coating them, and selling them back to us as viable moral stances for the 21st century. Ignoring all of what was actually inventive, subversive, and progressive about the American 1950s (like pop-art, avant-garde literature, the seeds of Civil Rights movements, and especially the high tax brackets for the rich that made the post-FDR American economy possible), conservatives (I use this deliberately to avoid generalizing about all Republicans) draw instead on the most repressive aspects of Cold War containment culture: racial and sexual bigotry, a call for ‘faith in government surveillance,’ and a blighting fear of change, difference, and all things ‘un-American’… whatever that means. Then they paper over their hateful beliefs with the language of ‘family values,’ harkening back to some shared, invented past that we should all be proud of if we are true Americans.
Last week, Foster Friess, the megamillionaire evangelical Christian who is married to a former beauty queen and is also the biggest backer of Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, made his now infamous ‘aspirin’ joke about birth control in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. (It’s sort of comical that birth control crusader Margaret Sanger once said she had dreamed of a contraceptive pill that would be ‘as easy to take as an aspirin.’ Sort of.) [ii]
Here’s what Mr. Friess had to say in response to Ms. Mitchell inquiring whether Rick Santorum has endangered his chances for election through his ultra-conservative views on women (their service in the military, their access to birth control and abortions, etc.):
Well, I’m – I get such a chuckle when these things come out. Here we have millions of our fellow Americans unemployed, we have Jihadist camps being set up in Central, in, uh, Latin America, which Rick has been warning about, and people seem to be so preoccupied with sex. So I think it says something about our culture — we maybe need a massive therapy session so we can concentrate on what the real issues are. And this contraceptive thing — my gosh, it’s so, it’s such inexpensive — you know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly. [iii]
(You can watch the full video here, including Andrea Mitchell’s priceless response: “Excuse me, I’m just trying to catch my breath from that, Mr. Friess, frankly.”)
So, Mr. Friess, why is it that we aren’t focused on the ‘real issues’?
Well, for one plain and simple fact: because sex IS a real issue.
Sex is a real issue when political backers can speak about contraception as a matter of ‘ladies keeping their legs closed’ on national television, only to be forgiven by their presidential candidate because, as Santorum claims, this foul speech was just a sort of quaint, “off-color joke.” (In truth, as Dan Amira of New York Magazine wisely points out, the real joke is on us if we don’t see that Friess’ crude statement is a telling version of Santorum’s actual belief structure.) [iv]
Sex is a real issue in a country where marriage inequality is shamefully touted as some kind of national moral preservation, and where the federal government continues to deny the LGBT community the same choices and freedoms that all other American citizens enjoy.
Sex is a real issue when the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation considers pulling funding for free mammograms from Planned Parenthood. [v]
Sex is a real issue when the Blunt Amendment (Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO) threatens to limit working women’s coverage for birth control and treatments for AIDS and some cancers if they stand “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan.” [vi]
Sex is a real issue when that same amendment is only addressed publicly by men (at the recent ‘Issa hearing’), and when women are banned from speaking during the hearing with the flimsy excuse that they “submitted their names too late to be included.”
Sex is a real issue when The Washington Post can still run an entire (poorly-written) article on monogamy penned by a man that is filled with unreliable statistics (somewhere between 25% to 75% of people might cheat, folks!), and which masquerades as social progressivism, but which is based solely on
…in-depth interviews with 120 straight and gay undergraduate men in Britain and the United States as well as broader research into monogamy.
That’s right, there were no women (or non-Anglo-Americans) interviewed in an article about mutually monogamous relationships. To top it off, the piece concludes with the argument that ‘liberal-minded’ women should pretty much let men betray them physically and emotionally because, well, that’s just how dudes work, girls. Scientifically speaking. [vii]
Sex is a real issue when even some of the Republican Party’s most prominent female leaders perform a frighteningly rigid, sexually stylized form of ‘femininity’ as a means of apologizing for their leadership positions (Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Ann Coulter come to mind, though let’s not forget Stepford Wife Callista Gingrich, Mrs. Cindybot McCain, and, while we’re at it, all the wives of male Democrats who do the same thing.)
Sex is a real issue when the GOP’s own female pundits, like Melissa Clouthier, damn young female CPAC attendees for their clothing by using foul, demeaning language that places the conservative burden of sexual control entirely on young women:
I was dismayed to see how many of [the young female attendees] either looked frumpish or like two-bit whores… have women so internalized feminist dogma that they see themselves in only two ways? Butch, men-lite wannabes or 3rd wave sluts who empower themselves by screwing every available horndog man? [viii]
According to Clothier, women must not tempt men with their bodies, but neither must they appear desexualized or unattractive to men, so it is up to them (and, of course, the male overlords responsible for them), to prevent this through fashion:
…in a business environment where ideas are the priority, a dude thinking about your ta-tas is counter-productive… [S]omeone is allowing these girls out of the house with mini-skirts that reveal too much. [ix]
Sex is a real issue when a woman’s (Ann Coulter’s) CPAC speech actually includes the following statement about other women:
I think all real females are right-wingers… And I can tell you that based on experience—and my [male] bodyguard will back me up on this—all pretty girls are right-wingers. [x]
(Oh wait. It gets even better.) She continues,
And I’ll take 69 cents on the dollar, or whatever the current feminist myth is about how much we make, just to never have to pay for dinner. That seems like a fair deal to me.
Sex is a real issue because countless women continue to be the victims of verbal, physical, and sexual assault every day, solely because of their biological sex.
Sex is a real issue because women, even those who work full-time outside the home, still perform the lion’s share of unpaid household work and childcare.
Sex is a real issue because women (pace, Ann Coulter) really do earn less money than men for performing the same labor outside of the home.
Sex is a real issue because women are thinking, voting citizens of this country whose bodies should be their own domain.
Sex IS a real issue, Mr. Friess. And we should all, no matter what our gender identification, be troubled by the claim that ‘feminism is over’ in a world where all of the above things are happening. It is not enough to dismiss Mr. Friess as ignorant, or to merely term his speech as an ‘off-color joke.’ None of this will make for a better, fairer world.
I think Senator Barbara Boxer got it right when she said of the all-male Issa hearing,
I am amazed that now, in 2012, Republicans would have us go back to the medical dark ages. This dangerous amendment is a broadside attack on health care coverage for all Americans—and it’s an even more egregious attack in the GOP’s War on Women.
Sex is a real issue, and it is part of a conversation about equality that needs to continue for a long time, preferably at the volume of a shout, rather than a murmer. If you agree, please consider signing Senator Boxer’s petition, “One Million Strong for Women.”
The louder we are, the harder it will be for them to keep pretending that they can’t hear our voices.