When does the cost of heterosexual sex become too high for women?

Dear Joel,

One of the loudest complaints of conservatives about feminism is that it undermines families.  The right to vote, women in the workforce, contraception–it all adds up to women rejecting their God-mandated roles as “weaker vessels” and their dependency on men.  Pat Robertson’s version of feminism goes this way:

“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

Sure, Robertson is a kook, but his thinking appears in less extremist versions, like Mark Regnerus’ Cheap Sex (which I’ve criticized before). The controversial sociologist argues that we’ve made sex too easy. Without consequences, men have little reason to marry, and that’s undermining families. (Yes, Regnerus blames WOMEN’S increased willingness* to have sex outside of marriage for MEN’S failure to become decent husbands.)


The thesis of Mark Regnerus’ Cheap Sex: “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” 

For forty years, it’s been conservative “pro-family” consensus that women are ruining marriage and that feminism is turning us into queer witches.

If you think that “cheap sex” is destroying marriages/family/America, then it only makes sense that you’d reverse the beloved ACA contraception mandate, ban most abortions after 20 weeks, and allow federally-funded health care for poor children to expire. You make sex costlier so that women become more selective about their partners. (Men don’t have to worry about being selective, because they can escape the consequences of sex much more easily, not being the ones who get pregnant, after all.) They withhold sex until marriage, driving men into legally-binding relationships that will force them to grow up. Unwanted pregnancies, deadbeat dads, men who refuse to enter the workforce, gangs, crime–we address them all through the panacea that is marriage! Women go back to using their strongest asset–their vaginas–to inspire men to grow up. Instead of just having casual sex with adultescent losers, we can marry them! Why the hell did we even need the 19th Amendment when we could just cross our legs to make men do what we want!

But have Republicans considered how hard it’s going to be sell high-risk sex to women? If we have to choose between sex that puts us at increased risk of pregnancy, with less access to abortion and no support for pregnancy, babies, or children….

Maybe we’ll choose sex with women instead.



I’m mostly joking when I suggest that Republicans like Paul Ryan can turn women into lesbians, but they can sure make sex with men an unattractive option. 

It might not be for all of us, but I encourage my women friends who would otherwise be having sex Republican men to at least consider it.


*Regnerus’ claim that we have more noncommittal sex is not supported by evidence. Compared to previous generations, young people today are delaying the onset of sex and will likely have fewer partners, on average, than previous generations.



If abortion kills children, what does war do to them?

Dear Joel,

I appreciate your empathy for a pro-life position–and your willingness to hold pro-life Christians to a fully pro-life position. “Birth to natural death” means nothing if Christians can find a way to excuse every war that their leaders bring to them.

To your well-made point that it’s not pro-life to advocate nuclear war, I’ll add a few more:

If you believe that abortion is wrong because it kills innocent people, you should oppose war, too, because most of the people killed in war are also innocent. Even with our most precise drone technology, we kill a lot of people we’re not aiming for. 


Above, the face of a Pakistani girl whose family was killed in a 2010 US drone strike, as seen from above. If you think that doctors who perform abortions are doing evil, what do you think that drone operators are doing?

If you believe that abortion hurts women, you should oppose war because it hurts women, too. Women are injured when rape is used as a weapon in war, and they die in attacks that kill civilians. The UN estimates that 86% of refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan are women and children. But it’s not just “bad guys” who hurt women. The international system of US bases feeds prostitution that harms women and children.

If you believe that women who have abortions are seeking an easy-way-out from a problem of their own making, see if you can tell me why we entered the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, or any war of the twenty-first century. Also, tell me how much military budget you are willing to cut to put toward efforts that are more likely to work than war. War isn’t just a moral failing–it’s a practical one. 

If you think that abortion is a sign of a self-centered culture that hates children and God, don’t say that the military protects people or that war is holy. Just admit it: you don’t love women and children. You love power over others.




Hateful Campus Visitors and the Challenges of Empathy


For a good portion of most of my days, I listen to hate speech, transcribing and analyzing it. I wouldn’t encourage anyone else to this kind of work; there is a risk of harm involved, of losing faith in humanity, of becoming too familiar with the basest language, of numbing out and forgetting that these words kill people’s spirits and contribute to violence.

But there is value in listening, too. We need to know—not merely so we never forget history but also so that we don’t deny the present state of things, which, right now in particular, is pretty hateful.

So you are right—when Heather MacDonald is invited to campus, she should speak and those who can learn from her should listen. Not merely because of the First Amendment but because we can learn from even very poor thinkers—not to mimic their thinking but to understand it. And, perhaps we can sometimes even appreciate the good work that often-hateful people do, as Tablet does in its “My Favorite Anti-Semite” column. Their stories remind us that good people can do bad things—a larger reminder to be on guard against our sense of our own goodness.

As a college educator, I want to be sure that my students are critically-minded enough to listen to MacDonald, if they chose to. If I’ve done my job well, they will be skeptical of her process and reject her conclusions, not because, as Betsy DeVos says, I’ve” indoctrinated” them but because they can listen across lines of difference with compassion and still see the weaknesses in her argument. And I hope that, when they do that, they respond by, first caring for those who are being harmed by her arguments, then by building better ones.

But this issue is only peripherally about MacDonald.  It’s perhaps more about universities—students, faculty, and administrators—who bring such figures to campus. As an African American student, how do you go to class the next day and sit by peers who cheer on someone who makes racist arguments? How do you entrust your education to professors who cheer on that position? (It’s very much akin to how I feel about Donald Trump voters. He’s bad enough. The fact that 60 million + people voted for him, in large part because they are racist, is what is really upsetting. That would be disheartening if he’d won or lost. And remember, from paragraph 1, that I study hate all day long. So it’s not like I’m not prepared for people to be awful.)

How do we ask black students or international students to learn alongside those who invited Richard “peaceful ethnic cleansing” Spencer to Auburn University? (Spencer’s invitation was rescinded after the university decided it could not insure the safety of campus. A federal court has weighed in, saying that Spencer has the right to speak on campus. Spencer plans on speaking on campus tonight and has said that he is prepared for potential violence.)


A different story: Last week at Washington State University, students who were part of an anti-abortion group staked 300 pink crosses in the ground in a “Cemetery for the Unborn,” a display drawing attention to the 3000 abortion performed in the US each day, according to the WHO. Later in the day, a student passing by grew agitated by the display and began to dismantle it, and others joined in. Eventually, campus police were called to address the dispute. My gut response (as with the call to destroy Dana Schultz’s painting of Emmett Till) was a big “No, nope, nope.” The student who led the attempt to dismantle the display said his concern was for women who have had abortions who walked by it and were harmed by it. Another student who participated in vandalism of the display said, ““If I were a person that had an abortion and I saw this, I would be heartbroken.”

Their concern for their peers is real. Their empathy is admirable.

But empathy is at the heart of a lot of hateful activity, too. It’s why the content of speech would be a very bad way to decide if it deserves the protections of the First Amendment, as the Supreme Court, in Snyder v. Phelps and elsewhere, has noted. What one person hears as speakers advocating for inclusivity, respect, and kindness another will hear as an assault on religious freedom and the foundations of Western Civilization.To paraphrase the scholar Janice Radway, “listening is not eating“; we get to choose what we do with what we hear.