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Toxic Relationships

st-agnes-virgin-martyrMuch has now been made of Ross Douthat’s Sunday offering, “The Daughter Theory.” The argument is pretty humble, so I’m a little surprised by the reaction. In short, Douthat points out that there is some evidence that raising daughters causes parents to tend toward voting Republican, and suggests that this is because (contrary to ‘young liberal’ opinions about which American party serves the interests of women) parents are attracted to Republican support of more traditional sexual mores for girls.

This is something of a potshot at Republicans as far as I can tell, though I know it wasn’t intended that way. “People who have little girls are so terrified of the harms of promiscuous sex for women that they sign up for entire political programs that deliver literally next to nothing in terms of actually reducing promiscuity” seems to be a long-winded way of saying “apparently when people who raise little girls get really, really dopey, they support the political party Ross Douthat supports.” Masses of people agreeing to vote for officials who want to go to war, continue using the death penalty, and tend to oppose programs that would support the poor all so those officials will do little more than pay lip service to the virtue of female chastity surely isn’t the ideal arrangement for a democracy. It’s more or less an admission of the sheer theatrics of American electoral politics, which, there you have it: honesty in journalism.

This is even more puzzling as Douthat isn’t beating the usual conservative drum of teen pregnancy, about which one can at least imagine some kind of policy solution, as it seems to have policy-related roots. The moral crisis he puts forward comes in the form of a novel, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.“, which concerns the toxicity of a seemingly sensitive young male writer who does a disservice to the women in his life by refusing to commit to them. The world in which young men and women drift through alienation and loneliness at cocktail parties and small get-togethers in converted lofts isn’t the world of teen pregnancy, it’s the world of upper and middle class ennui. I am not sure how anyone imagines Republican policy would police these people into a more serious moral treatment of sex, given that sex-for-entertainment-goes-awry-among-the-upper-classes is a story as old as Les Liaisons dangereuses.

Of course, what’s likely going on here, and Douthat does suggest this, is a shift in overall values that produces in parents of daughters an affinity for Republican ideology. So it’s not necessarily that parents think Republicans will be able to do anything in particular about the travails of youth promiscuity, but rather that they feel affinity with Republican outrage over the problem, and that same outrage sort of ambiently permeates a great deal of Republican marketing of their positions.

And that it’s marketing we’re dealing with that’s a take-home point, I think. That parents would vote Republican due to a kind of broad rhetorical appeal rather than any real policy plans demonstrates the lack of any serious link between the kind of social conservatism Douthat is proposing here and the fiscal/foreign policy we get out of the Republicans. Is it remotely necessary that somebody who prefers low hemlines and high necklines should also prefer, say,  free market capitalism and the use of the death penalty? No; in fact, it’s pretty easy even operating within Douthat’s own Catholic frame to imagine the opposite situation, in which someone who views sex as sacrosanct for its role in marriage and the production of life should be equally opposed to the termination of human life in capital punishment and war. (The Vatican considers the death penalty an affront to human dignity, by the way, and frequently calls for its abolition.)

Some forms of progressive ideology do feature programmatic approaches to politics and society that militate against more traditional moral considerations of sex. But not all do, and the sheer variety of available orientations toward sex independent of one’s orientation toward foreign policy, economic policy, etc. suggests that American political categories aren’t wholly natural ones. Republicans, in other words, are basically lucky that they get to traffic in the fear of parents who raise daughters, but it’s disingenuous to suggest their ideology is coherently or necessarily supportive of the principles that usually underpin an interest in the serious moral treatment of sex. Folks on the Christian left would be quite happy to see the Republican monopoly on the seriousness of sex and marriage decoupled from the rest of their (far, far more actionable and materially realized) interests for that reason.

But the objection to Douthat hasn’t really been along the lines of questioning the real relationship between a serious moral approach to sex and the wider ideology of the Republican party. Instead, it’s been the same old, same old: Ross Douthat is a patriarchal sexist who has a poor opinion of women.

Sigh. If I had a nickel for every time a man supporting a more conservative take on sex was accused of misogyny, I’d be rich enough to buy some billboard space in Brooklyn begging lefties to stop making that argument. The reality is that plenty of women are right there with Douthat, hoping for and advocating a more traditional approach to sex. Not even playing with you here: in this 2006 Pew Forum poll, 36% of men and 35% of women thought that sex between unmarried adults was morally wrong, while 23% of men found it morally acceptable compared to 20% of women. Women are just as diverse in their opinions as men, and it does not require misogyny, deep-seated, internalized or otherwise to prefer a conservative approach to sex. Lefties who immediately launch into accusations of sexism when male writers express these sorts of opinions (absent any other truly damning rhetoric) are often tasked with the uncomfortable work of explaining the women who hold those same positions. Thus we slip into the ‘internalized misogyny’ explanation, which reads more or less like brainwashing, which is essentially the old, played out ‘women are weak-minded and need help, the poor dears’ garbage we’ve tried to shed.

If Douthat has some negative opinion of women, this column alone isn’t evidence of that. It’s evidence only of the too-facile alliance between conservatism in matters like sex and conservatism in matters of economic policy, criminal justice, the use of military action, etc. The baby could easily have other bath water here, and be just as clean.

 

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107 thoughts on “Toxic Relationships

  1. I’ve long thought that people vote for essentially self-regarding reasons — it makes them feel better about something. They get to belong to a team. They get to cheer for the team, even if the team routinely loses. They get to feel like they’re part of a story, even if the story is a tragedy.

    This seems to be very good evidence for my theory. Also, this was a fantastic post.

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    • Jason said more of less what I was going to, in fewer words. I loved the post. It sorta validates my thoughts on how political leanings shake out.

      I’d also add: Kudos to Elizabeth for looking beyond the superficial response into something deeper than abject criticism.

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      • Did she, though? I mean, the post strikes me as very insular. It assumes that Republicans are wrong about everything except the one issue on which she agrees with them, and then it defends Douthat on the grounds that the charge of misogyny can’t be levelled at him without accusing her of wrong thinking. So in every general, and one specific, she assumes that she’s right without providing supporting arguments. Not every article has to be a bulletproof thesis on every political issue, but I can’t say that this one has much of any insight at all.

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      • It assumes that Republicans are wrong about everything except the one issue on which she agrees with them, and then it defends Douthat on the grounds that the charge of misogyny can’t be levelled at him without accusing her of wrong thinking

        It seems to me that since a.) we know she’s not a conservative, and b.) she’s arguing against other liberals/progressives, the approach you describe is a pretty effective one.

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  2. I’m more inclined to read this as something like “parents (of daughters, especially) more likely to reshuffle political assumptions”.

    I’ve seen people change their opinions on the War On Drugs once they have kids. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is a similar change in attitudes towards mandatory minimums, DUI, or other “law and order” areas… which, for whatever reason, Republicans tend to own despite being just as bad as the other party.

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    • This. When your single and have no children of your own, its very easy to support things like ending the war on drugs or modern sexual norms because you aren’t seeing it through the prism of being a parent. Kids change that because you start worrying about them and you don’t want them to get hurt. The need to provide security, which politically manifests as law and order politics, comes to the for front.

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    • I’ve certainly seen peoples beliefs about health care change as they age, stop being really and truly Invincible or get a per-existing condition. Seems like empathy has been discussed as something that helps people see what it is like to walk in someones else shoes. I also vaguely remember empathy being disregarded as one of those silly liberal things.

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      • Greg, Also of course the number of people who become more sympathetic to gay rights when they actually develop relationships with people for whom this matters. My experience at this site is proof of that as my views have done a 175 degree turn since I became friends with Russell, Jason and North.

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      • Very true Mike. The same holds for many groups. There is a great value to places like colleges or the military which push people out of their comfort zones and into contact with the kind of people they would have never met.
        175 degrees; wow that is a precise measurement, very impressive (insert smiley face here) What can we do to get that last 5 degrees?

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      • Oh it’s just baggage that comes with life experience Greg. It will either fade away or I will figure out how to supress it. Some things are so burned into our beings it takes a long time to get them out.

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      • Allow me to rephrase: is this attitude on the part of parents (especially of girls) something that we, as a society, ought to cultivate? Perhaps do what we can to get non-parents to experience as much as we are able to make them do so?

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  3. I spent some time a while back reading post-third-wave feminist authors, just to get an idea of their framework and arguments. One of my biggest take-away points, which really surprised me, was how much they have in common with social conservatives on the issue of sex. Of course, their terminology is completely different. But their stance on sex and their criticisms of current social trends can be mapped onto the conservative narrative pretty easily. Both challenge the social default of assumed promiscuity and liberal availability of willing female partners for young males. Conservatives may call it “sinful”, while the feminists would call it “rape culture.” I’ve read a number of feminists who argue that rape culture is so pervasive that right-minded men should only engage in sexual relations with a woman after ensuring her total consent by dedicating a vast amount of time and emotional investment to her. Social conservatives would agree with that “commitment” requirement.

    Of course, feminism is not monolithic. There are those who disagree, and label themselves “sex-positive” feminists. But the fact that they use that label is telling.

    Yes, it would be interesting if sexual mores were divorced from programmatic political ideologies. It would be very interesting to see what alliances would arise.

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    • I might be a bit off on my feminist lexicon but I thought it was the Second Wave feminists that talked a lot about rape culture and had much in common with conservatives when it came to sex. Some of them have even worked with conservatives to fight against porn. Third-Wave feminists overall describe themselves as sex positive.

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      • My own experience has been rather different. I don’t want to see my daughters’ lives ruined by a conviction for smoking pot, or have them be stuck with a lifetime brand of “sexual offender” because once upon a time they made the stupid mistake of texting a nude picture of themselves. Not that I want them to do either of those things in and of themselves, but the law and order consequences are off-the-charts in terms of the penalty fitting the “crime.”

        And as the father of three daughters who’s looked at the data on domestic violence and murder by boyfriends/husbands, I realized that I would feel a lot better about my daughters’ safety if they all turned out to be lesbian.

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      • Excepting the first wave, the distinction, and often heated battles between sex-positive and (heterosexual) sex-skeptical feminism isn’t generational. The current generation of feminists has a lot of radical feminists (in the actual sense of the term “radical,” not the Fox News version) who are skeptical of any and all heterosexual sex, and plenty of sex-positive feminists as well.

        I do not think that (heterosexual) sex-skeptical feminism is inconsistent with the sexual liberation of earlier generation feminism, by the way. In order for women to be on the same footing as men, we have to both treat their sexuality as no less valid than men’s and treat their agency as no less important than men’s. This means that women should be able to be sexual, but they should be able to do so because they want it, not because another individual or society places pressure on them to be so for the satisfaction of men’s sexual desires. If you go back to the 70s, you’ll see precisely this: women should be able to have sex without being shamed and being treated as sexual objects.

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      • Lee Esq

        I might be off too. The ones I read described themselves as “post-third wave”, which might only have been a narrative device to counter accusations of being reactionary. My understanding is that second-wave feminists criticized libertine sexual mores as a construct of patriarchal society, while the authors I read tended more towards essentialist arguments. (Thus bringing them closer to social conservatives.) But that’s just my perception.

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      • James, I agree with you. A lot of teenagers and young adults are going to do things that may or may not be the most intelligent thing to do at the time for various reasons. We don’t want a system where people are punished for doing impulsive things as teenagers. Treating things like sexting and pot smoking as crimes will not do good in the long run or even the short run.

        That being said, using law and order to support “traditional morality” has been a part of human politics forever.

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      • Chris

        This means that women should be able to be sexual, but they should be able to do so because they want it, not because another individual or society places pressure on them to be so for the satisfaction of men’s sexual desires.

        Ahh, but there’s the rub. The key is the assertion that those two conditions are not necessarily exclusive. In my view, the difference between the various feminist groups (and their proximity to social conservatives on this issue) is not a sliding scale between “sex-positive” and “sex-skeptical”, it’s how they address the issues of of consent, coercion, desires, and agency. Some are willing to look at a person’s “decision” and, absent certain specific, observable, articulate facts, claim that the decider had agency. Others are more willing to unpack the “decision” and make inferences about various subtle personal, relational, and cultural factors which affected the person’s agency. I see similarity in the feminists I read (post third wave, second wave, whatever) in their willingness to question a person’s agency in making a sexual decision, with social conservatives who do the same thing. That this process results in “sex-skepticism” for both groups is an interesting, but I think ultimately coincidental result.

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      • It is certainly coincidental, particularly when we note that for the sexual conservative, the primary aim of sex is procreation (in the abstract, of course; focus on marriage is largely because marriage is the context in which procreation should take place), whereas for feminists, the primary aim of sex is the exercise of one’s agency in the satisfaction of desires that are every bit as legitimate for males and females, and should be decoupled from procreation.

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      • Chris, being skeptical of any and all heterosexual sex seems more than a little bit impractical considering the number of people in the world and not reallly an ideal reaction to the control’s placed on women’s sexuality. I never really understood what the heterosexual sex-skeptics thought that the natural reaction to their argument might be. Most people, women as well as men, are just going to roll their eyes and continue on their merry way at best. The worst reaction is that people would think that the conservative impression of feminism was right.

        The heterosexual sex-skeptics might be entirely sincere buy I really can’t see what they hope to accomplish.

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      • Lee, the reason such feminists are genuinely “radical,” rather than “radical” in the Fox News sense (which, as far as I can tell, just means “feminist”) is that they advocate a wholesale change to culture, and its relationship to gender and gender concepts in particular, such that those reactions might be different. I think most of those feminists are smart enough and aware enough of their radicalness to know that most men and most women today will roll their eyes at them, but would argue that those men and women have been socialized in rape culture or patriarchal culture, with its attendant male-centered conceptions of sex and gender, so they can’t help it. The idea is to subvert that culture, not pretend that it doesn’t exist.

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      • Chris, I know how the heterosex skeptical-feminists are real radicals as opposed to Fox News radicals but getting what them getting what they want is about as likely as returning to the no-sex before marriage and only vanilla heterosexual sex allowed days. Not likely/ Most heterosexual men, probably close to 100%, are not going to reconsider their own sexuality. They might celebrate the expansion of sexual rights to women and sexual minorities but they aren’t going to give up on their own or see it as evil.

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      • only vanilla heterosexual sex allowed days.

        That would be Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, and Independence Day, I believe; the holidays that celebrate what America really means.

        (On Labor Day you can have all kinds of deviant sex, you commies.)

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      • Eh, I think men have been reconsidering what it means to be men for some time now, in no small part thanks to the efforts of feminists to get people to reflect on gender and identity. Perhaps radical change is unlikely, because we live in such a comfortable world, but radicalism has its role regardless of the likelihood of radicals getting what they want.

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  4. Pingback: Convergence on Sexual Politics? | Hit Coffee

  5. Masses of people agreeing to vote for officials who want to go to war, continue using the death penalty, and tend to oppose programs that would support the poor all so those officials will do little more than pay lip service to the virtue of female chastity surely isn’t the ideal arrangement for a democracy.

    I suppose Duverger’s Law and the structure of the US government, with our winner-take-all Presidential system and a Cabinet completely separate from the legislature, make these types of coalitions inevitable; that is, we should expect divergent interests to band together into one of two political parties, and for whatever reasons, these intra-party coalitions seem to be more stable than inter-party coalitions in multi-party parliamentary systems.

    That doesn’t make it any less depressing to see large groups of voters abandon strategy in the name of philosophical purity, or to see voters prize lip service over actual results.

    And, as others have said: excellent post.

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  6. Stellar post indeed.
    Ross may be correct that being a parent of a little girl may make one swing towards being more socially conservative but I would hope that being a parent of a young woman should have the opposite effect.

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    • I must imagine this deals with the parent’s understanding of happiness, and the speed with which the young lady matures into a self-actualized person capable of seeking happiness autonomously. For the parents of a younger girl who can only visualize happiness and worth by way of a relationship with a man, the more conservative view of things presents an obvious appeal.

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  7. Sex and romantic love are such an important part of the human want and a source of a lot of emotional conflict that expecting any society, especially a diverse society like ours, to come with a consistent, for lack of a better term, sexual ideology is an exercise in frustration. People are always going to believe wildly different things about sex and love. We aren’t going to reach utopia where everybody believes that sex before marriage is wrong or the other utopia where everybody is perfectly fine with all consensual expressions of human sexuality between adults.

    The current system is probably the best that we can do since it more or less allows adults to express their sexuality with other adults anyway they want as long as their is consent. Trying to pull society as a whole in a more traditional or less traditional manner is not going to end well.

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    • I’d agree the current system is likely pretty close to the best we can do. I’d submit, also, that it may be destined to produce increasingly good outcomes as well. I mean our relative libertine attitudes towards sexuality are, sociologically, brand spanking new. It shouldn’t be surprising that the new generations are a bit muddled about it but the newer generations have been showing some impressive improvements on a large host of statistics. Women especially may become a lot more savvy and discerning in light of the freedom they now have.

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      • I’m pretty much on the the pro-women’s sexuality side of this but I do have problems with the sex positive movement and think that they can be way too utopian at times. They to, like the sexual conservatives, think that everybody would be happier living my way. Personally, I’d be miserable and incompetent in an “open” relationship and would really prefer a more traditional monogamous relationship. I’m not entirely sure if “open” relationships or “polyamory” is a good idea in the first place considering how jealous that many people seem to get and the sense of betrayal that come about. There should not be legislation against open or polyamorous relationships, that would be near impossible to enforce but they shouldn’t be hyper-idealized to.

        To me, sex and love are subjects filled with complications and contradictions that the assumption should be that society should not impose any ideal on the people at large for the most part. Too much danger that way.

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  8. While you are right to underline that a conservative (which is to say, prudentially favoring abstinence to non-marital sex) approach to sex need not arise from misogyny, isn’t it also true that a principal feature of misogyny is a deep distrust of female sexuality, manifesting in the creation and enforcement of social devices to control women’s sexual activity? If motive is an important factor in weighing the moral gravity of a person’s actions, then even advocating mores and social norms with which you agree can be bad things, should those things be advocated for a bad purpose (subjugation) rather than a good one (elevation of sex to the realm of the sacred).

    Also I note several times that you refer to the concept of social regulation of sex as a futile act. This dovetails with my own prejudices, but is this truly the case? Are there no plausible social regimes we might posit in which sexual restraint is praised as a virtue and promiscuity condemned as a vice? If that is the case, and as a practical matter sexual activity in the real world will always be at variance with ideals of behavior espoused in universally-ignored norms, then doesn’t that render the whole idea of sexual mores an exercise in futility? Why bother addressing sexual mores at all?

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    • Conservatism on sex and misogyny can definitely be related (in both directions, each can inspire the other) but then again they can also be totally decoupled. My intent was mostly to point out that the knee-jerk ‘he’s a misogynist!’ argument that tends to arise when men in particular advocate some kind of sexual conservatism is unfair in this case.

      I didn’t mean to suggest the /social/ regulation of sex is a futile venture, but that the /legal/ regulation of it (which is all Republicans voted into office have real control over) has generally been. This isn’t to say that Republicans couldn’t theoretically legally regulate sex (they could, I suppose, make pre-marital sex totally illegal and enforce it via public execution) but that they haven’t. Regulating sex socially seems a much more fair expectation, but then again you don’t need to vote for any specific party for that to happen.

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      • The holders of public office are often leaders in the social arena, both by word and deed. Not for nothing do we care about the sorts of charities and causes favored by the First Lady, who is technically not elected to any office at all. So I can see picking a politician who promises to lead socially by example, and elevating that person to a place where her example, and that of her family, achieves prominence and public esteem. Personally, I like to think I disregard such things, but I probably don’t, and I can only find so much fault with those who explicitly admit such things influence their votes.

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      • I don’t understand why you argue that it implies brain washing for someone who thinks that the sexes are equal to conclude that people of either gender can believe in misogynist ideas.

        Being X doesn’t equate to can’t be anti-Xist.

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  9. As the father of 3 daughters, I hate stories like these, and the polling Douthat references. If anything, owing to the Republican Party’s actual policy proposals, and particularly its stance on both healthcare overall, and abortion in particular, I am driven FARTHER away from their approach the older my daughters get. Ad in the fact that my oldest (at 17) is moving into the workforce and her secondary eduction, and Republican economic policies are also a huge turnoff.

    I do share your sense that too many people tend to vote against their own real interests due to rhetoric, but that problem has been well documented and discussed here on various occasions. As long as Republicans are more successful at speaking to emotional fears and needs they will likely continue to receive votes, regardless of the gender of one’s children and the success of their economic program.

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  10. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P is more specific than upper and middle class ennui. It is about Brooklyn bourgeois-bohemian upper and middle class ennui. I haven’t read it but the reviews also made it out to be a fairly Jewish novel and potentially a parody on the Jonathan Lethems of the World. Though I suppose you could substitute any other city, the reviews I’ve read made it seem like the novel can only exist in gentrified but still edgy Brooklyn. Disclaimer: I love Brooklyn and probably consider it the home of my favorite apartment and some of the best years of my life.

    Why do people think that voting Republican will keep their daughters (and maybe sons) out of this world? I think part of it is slightly anti-Semitic because Brooklyn is still largely associated with Jews and Blacks in the popular imagination. Also LeeEsq pointed this out in other threads but prohibition was about more than prohibition. It was a kind of dying grasp for power among small-town and white Protestants who saw that America was rapidly urbanizing and their way of life was dying. “How can you expect them to return to the farm, once they’ve seen Paris…”, etc. I suspect that there is still a lot of fear and resentment towards the draw of big cities. There have been commentators here including liberal ones who complained about the brain drain and how are media encourages young people to move towards some big cities instead of staying in their hometowns and being content with more humble goals. Perhaps voting Republican or the switch towards leaning Republican is a kind of culture war against the city and what it stands for.

    It also seems like there is a lot of contradictory study and factors into what causes people to vote for what party and this is not helped by our winner-take-all two party system. You have factors for education, socio-economics, religion, family history, ethnicity, race, profession, and many other details. Based on all these factors above, I’m a third to fourth generation liberal Democratic Jewish voter from New York. I find it hard to see how having children (daughters or sons) will start to make me consider the Republican Party. There has only been one Republican vote in my family and that is when my mom voted for the judge who married her in a local election. My grandparents moved from very Jewish and Democratic New York to very Republican Nassau County (now not as much or even very Democratic on the North Shore) in the 1950s and felt isolated politically. They were Democratic enough to dislike that Salisbury Park was renamed Eisenhower Park.

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  11. Also I would like to point out that Ross D and other elite conservative journalists and politicians are often in a very weird place because they often have the same cultural likes and educational backgrounds as their liberal counterparts but need to appeal to an audience that does not.

    I find that upper-middle class bashing from the conservative elite to be highly vexing and hypocritical because the conservative elite seems to want it both ways. They will raise money or earn their livlihoods by insulting the tastes of the NPR kind of middle or upper middle class but go out to a locally sourced restaurant with fancy cocktails after hours. There always seems to be a cognitive dissonance in reading conservative journalists. I don’t think Ross D or Jonah Goldberg exactly have down home tastes.

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  12. “Of course, what’s likely going on here” is that Douthat had a deadline to meet.

    Sorry, that’s just what jumped out at me. His was a pretty simplistic-or, really, dumb-article, and usually I think he’s pretty good for some conservative analysis, just not this time. He starts with his joy in scoring points in some dumb tribal political game, then moving on to his internal monologue, then decides to beat up on a fictional Brooklyn character and use that to psychoanalyze all parents of (exclusively) daughters.

    His argument doesn’t even make sense. Apparently, the way to “beat” the Nathaniel P.s out there is take control of one’s sexuality, and become the power-broker in all genital play. That’s not social conservatism.

    All these ranting aside, this was a damned good essay, Elizabeth. It was a more thorough and thoughtful response than Douthat deserved. The one critique I would have, though, is this:

    “But the objection to Douthat hasn’t really been along the lines of questioning the real relationship between a serious moral approach to sex and the wider ideology of the Republican party. Instead, it’s been the same old, same old: Ross Douthat is a patriarchal sexist who has a poor opinion of women.”

    Do you have a link to support your assertion that this is the objection to Douthat? Since you use it to springboard into a larger argument, I would like to see the evidence.

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  13. Great post Elizabeth (and a belated welcome to the site)!

    This remark rang most true with me, “If I had a nickel for every time a man supporting a more conservative take on sex was accused of misogyny, I’d be rich enough to buy some billboard space in Brooklyn begging lefties to stop making that argument.”

    Very, very true.

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  14. Women are just as diverse in their opinions as men, and it does not require misogyny, deep-seated, internalized or otherwise to prefer a conservative approach to sex.

    Except the reason there’s _misogyny_ there is that Russ seems to be okay with the idea it’s only _daughters_ who shouldn’t have sex.

    If there’s some aspect of society that gets upset that ‘their’ women are having sex, but _not_ upset that ‘their’ men are, that aspect is, ispo facto, misogynistic. They want to protect ‘their’ daughters from making her own choices. That is basically the explicit premise of this article, and the concept as utterly misogynistic as humanly possible, it is literally the basic _foundation_ of misogyny, that women must be kept under control.

    Or, in this more liberal age where excising literally control is no longer possible thanks to feminist, the idea is that women should be taught to control _themselves_, as if they’re trained dogs or something and can’t decide these things on their own. They’re like shopkeepers, and all those concerned men are walking around talking about how all of them need to raise the price of their vagina as a whole, because cheap vagina is destroying society. Don’t women see that?!

    It’s a mode of thought with literally no respect for women and the fact that they might actually deserve to enjoy their relationships however they see fit. That women actually might enjoy having sex, or having whatever relationship they’re actually in. And it assumes they’re all too stupid to actually find someone who wants the same choices out of their relationship as they do, that if they actually want someone to have children with, they can’t find it.

    And, incidentally, I response in this manner _literally having read no other criticism of the article_. Seriously, this is like Feminism 101.

    Some polls taking about how some minority of people wish we’d go back to more traditional relationships is rather irrelevant. Those polls are about whether or not unmarried couples should have sex, not whether or not ‘women should be protected’, aka, ‘women do not get to make their own choices’. (Although laughing at the idea that women can’t be misogynistic is a bit idiotic. Of course they can.)

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    • David,

      Is Ross saying he agrees with this? It seems to me that he is simply pointing out an observation he has made (hence, why he calls it a ‘theory’). And even if he is correct and having daughters can sway someone’s voting preference, I have a feelimg much of that inclination is subconcious, so it doesn’t necessarily qualify as misogyny.

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      • James,

        I think being swayed towards a political party, when there are a LOT of other issues involved, doesn’t quite qualify for most people. I also think many of the attributes that liberals would call ‘misogyny’ are more slippery when viewed through the lens of a parent. “I want a party that will keep my daughter more safe,” is a far cry from, “I want all women to stay in the kitchen.”

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      • So it’s not just that the inclination is subconscious that means it’s not misogynist, but that there are non-misogynist motivations–which themselves may be subconscious–for the inclination. Would that be a correct understanding of your point?

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      • Yes – I think it’s important to not take a whole bunch of innocent positions and lump them together under a problematic label because they appear to mean something different when taken as a group.

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      • Is Ross saying he agrees with this? It seems to me that he is simply pointing out an observation he has made (hence, why he calls it a ‘theory’).

        It’s an observation he has made _about himself_. It’s not like he went out and asked people who had daughters, he extrapolated this from how he thinks.

        Granted, I guess it would have been possible for him to stated this theory, and then said:

        ‘But I realized that I, myself, was making assumptions about what my daughters would want out of life. Perhaps they instead will not wish to have children, or if they do, perhaps I will have been able to teach them to judge the character of people and find men who will not string them along, or perhaps they’ll be lesbians and none of this will be relevant. And, even worse, perhaps my gender-based assumptions about what my daughters will want as adults that I am projecting onto them are _themselves_ part of the reason that adult women are ‘unhappy’ because they feel they are not fulfilling the roles society has set out for them, and they would be happier if I’d just let them live their own life as fully competent adults who will have their own life goals. And perhaps other parents of daughters should learn the same lessons, and make choices of what political party they support based on other things.’

        But, uh…it _didn’t_ end that way.

        I have a feelimg much of that inclination is subconcious, so it doesn’t necessarily qualify as misogyny.

        What a baffling statement.

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  15. Douthat writes:

    I do have a sense of where a daughter-inspired conservatism might come from, whatever political form it takes.

    It comes from thinking about their future happiness

    Curiously, though, women are more likely to be Democrats, and that effect is much larger than the effect Douthat refers to (he has the link to that study). So taking Douthat’s interpretation at face value, what this suggests is that those parents may have a poor understanding of their daughters’ interests.

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  16. Here are some other musings:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/01/us/as-oil-floods-plains-towns-crime-pours-in.html?_r=0

    The above link is to a big article from the Sunday Times from two weeks ago. The link says it all about the article. The oil industry in the Dakotas has resulted in a huge increase in crime including an opening story about two drifters who killed a local school teacher and buried her in a shallow grave. The motive of the murder seems non-existent to random. Local police do not have the resources to handle this level of crime.

    I’ve read numerous stories about the oil boom in the Dakotas and what is interesting is how old school and 19th century it feels. You could be reading about the early days of the gold rush in California. Men come to do the physical labor jobs and have a lot of cash. Whenever I read about women in these stories they seem to be involved in services like bartending but usually stripping and it is never said but I would not be surprised if sex work was also a part of their lives.

    Why does Ross D want to prevent women from being mistreated from the Nathaniel P’s of the world but not from being murdered by a random drifter or locked in the services industry in a boom town? I could see writing a counter column saying “Okay. Maybe women will have their hearts broken once or twice but they can also get a really good career and other opportunities in a big city. Plus less crime.”

    It often seems that people (myself included) pay more attention to what we perceive as against us in the culture. I know a lot of people who complain about how our media over focuses (in their mind) on city life and upper-middle class haute bourgeois attitudes towards money, lifestyle, and career, and goals. Even people from relatively large midwestern cities like Madison, Wisconsin can seethe at the amount of stuff that takes place in the NYC-Metro and San Francisco-Bay or LA areas. Chicago might also draw resentment.

    As a city person, I tend to dismiss this and counter with “How about all the movies and TV shows and books that take the city guy or gal and knocks them down a few hundred pegs and at the end said city guy or gal learns the virtues and superiority of small-town life.” I once made a fairly popular facebook update saying I could never make it as a screenwriter because my movies would end with the country guy or gal settling into a charming one bedroom in a brownstone and eating Sunday brunch with his or her friends while dishing over the Mergers and Acquisitions section of the Sunday Times or talking about the Truffaut revival at Film Forum.*

    *Mergers and Acquisitions is also known as the Wedding Announcements.

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    • “How about all the movies and TV shows and books that take the city guy or gal and knocks them down a few hundred pegs and at the end said city guy or gal learns the virtues and superiority of small-town life.”

      Those are in the non-fiction section. ;)

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    • I suspect that Douthat is opposed to random drifters murdering women. I also suspect that there are more women working in more basic service industry jobs than as strippers. It’s just that the NYT is more interested in the strippers. It’s a part of the ridiculous lengths they seem to want to go to in order to represent the oil boom as just uniformly awful for everybody.

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      • “It’s just that the NYT is more interested in the strippers. It’s a part of the ridiculous lengths they seem to want to go to in order to represent the oil boom as just uniformly awful for everybody.”

        I haven’t read about the oil boom specifically, but the NYT has developed a real tendency to make anything that is new or different to them into THE BIGGEST DEAL EVER!

        Their trend pieces would be hilarious if they weren’t so potentially damaging.

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      • How do you think NY Times trend pieces are damaging? I think they are basically trolling and click bait at this point.

        Most of them are in the Styles section which seems to be treated a lot more seriously than it should? Someone on another more radical part of the Internet seemed to think that these articles are going to make the revolution happen quicker.

        This is absurd. Most of the people who hate-read the NY Times trend pieces are from the educated middle class to upper-middle class. They might not be able to afford 2500 dollar nanny consultants or nannys but they can afford an extra 5-15 dollars for a babysitter with an arts degree.

        I once criticized a business that guaranteed its dog walkers were college educated. People here and my friends defended the idea because a college degree represented some degree of care, effort, and dedication. I don’t see why a babysitter with a BA in art or theatre or music is more offensive and damaging than a Dog walker with a college degree.

        Anyway the reporting on the Boom town comes from more than the NY Times and the article linked to above is a serious piece of reporting on what happens during a boom to previously small-town areas. The resources are outstripped. Will is letting a bit of his prejudices against the Times show which kind of proves my point below.

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      • Two primary ways the pieces are potentially damaging:

        1.) They lower the standards of journalism.
        2.) For those uninitiated with the general silliness of the trend pieces, they may presume they are legitimate reporting and act on them accordingly. I’m not talking about the hate-readers. I’m talking about the people who don’t read the NYT, get an article forwarded to them, excerpt it in a blog post, and suddenly people are either trying to combat or keep up with a trend that only exists in the skewed minds of NYT editors.

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      • For those uninitiated with the general silliness of the trend pieces, they may presume they are legitimate reporting and act on them accordingly. I’m not talking about the hate-readers. I’m talking about the people who don’t read the NYT, get an article forwarded to them, excerpt it in a blog post, and suddenly people are either trying to combat or keep up with a trend that only exists in the skewed minds of NYT editors.

        Sometimes, usually on Sundays, the straits times puts a few New York times opinion articles on our own opinion pages. I start feeling depressed when I read them

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      • Besides Murali, do you have any examples of non-hate reading of trend pieces from the Styles section?

        Most of the hate reading I see tends to come from very well-educated people, often NYC residents or at least NYC-Metro area residents, and people who are fairly well off as described above.

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      • I’m not accusing the NYT of making things up. I am saying, though, that they are relentlessly pursuing the Dakota boom from a very particular angle. You’re right that they’re not the only ones doing it, but if it’s an article in the Times about Dakota (or Wyoming), I can count on the shading of the article to be on how terrible it is.

        I will say this for the Times, though: They’ve had a spate of pieces on my home city that have been remarkably fair, if not generous. It’s… not what I would have expected. But they’ve actually been complimentary about the city’s good points – specifically it’s food – when it’s not uncommon for national outlets to be kneejerk dismissive of it.

        So there’s that.

        The oil boom, though? They’ve decided that the discomforts that come with growth aren’t a part of the story, but rather that they are the story. The amazing opportunities there are secondary to the fact that they’re having a doctor shortage, a housing shortage, kids choosing high-paying jobs over college, and so on. I have some ideas on why they’ve decided to put the focus where they have, but that’s definitely what they’re doing.

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      • Fairly common conversation in schools:

        Parent: Oh my god, did you see the article about how every school is teaching Mandarin now? WHY AREN’T WE TEACHING MANDARIN?
        Teacher: No. I didn’t. Which article are you talking about?
        Parent: It was in the New York Times and everything!
        Teacher: Was it a trend piece?
        Parent: I don’t know.
        [teacher reads article; it is indeed a trend piece]
        Teacher: [sigh] Where do I begin?

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      • Murali, it could be worse: they could reprint Tom Friedman columns

        They do that sometimes too. Its not like our own guys are any better. For example, Jonathan Eyal, our Europe correspondent is an extremely hawkish neo con. We have Andy Ho who might as well be Singapore’s own Tom Friedman. And then the prime minister’s sister (Lee Wei Ling) who gets (or used to get) a semi regular space writes the most execrable self involved twaddle I’ve ever read. Ross Douthat is miles ahead of these guys.

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    • This joke needs more work. Awesome article, and I hope the point of my joke comes through — that for folks concerned about the “chastity” of their daughters…. they have excellent reason to support an awful lot of things.

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      • For those concerned primarily and by a considerable margin over the chastity of their daughters.

        Perhaps something along the lines of “If it saves even one cherry, it’s worth it”

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  17. “Sigh. If I had a nickel for every time a man supporting a more conservative take on sex was accused of misogyny, I’d be rich enough to buy some billboard space in Brooklyn begging lefties to stop making that argument. The reality is that plenty of women are right there with Douthat, hoping for and advocating a more traditional approach to sex. Not even playing with you here: in this 2006 Pew Forum poll, 36% of men and 35% of women thought that sex between unmarried adults was morally wrong, while 23% of men found it morally acceptable compared to 20% of women. Women are just as diverse in their opinions as men, and it does not require misogyny, deep-seated, internalized or otherwise to prefer a conservative approach to sex. ”

    First, great piece.

    Second, I think the charges of misogyny tend to arise not when more conservative attitudes on sex are proposed, but when the requirement of ensuring a more conservative approach to sex is put solely or primarily on women.

    It is one thing to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral.”
    It is another to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral and women who engage in it are sluts and men who engage in it are just doing what men do.”

    It is wrong of critics to assume the latter when someone has said the former. But we shouldn’t excuse the misogyny that is inherent to the latter either.

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    • “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral and women who engage in it are sluts and men who engage in it are just doing what men do.”

      There’s an obvious solution for this, but they’re against that too,

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    • It is one thing to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral.”
      It is another to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral and women who engage in it are sluts and men who engage in it are just doing what men do.”

      It is wrong of critics to assume the latter when someone has said the former.

      +1.

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      • It is wrong of critics to assume the latter when someone has said the former.

        Mmmmm…. yesssss, but…

        This is one of those “do not walk in minefields without placing your feet carefully” things. If you’re going to spout off publicly on matters which include rhetorical minefields, disclaimers and provisos and whatnot are a good idea.

        It is one thing to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is probably not a good idea, for reasons.” Fine, let’s talk about your reasons.

        It is another thing to say “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral”. Um, that’s an inherently judgmental statement… not that there is anything wrong with judgmental statements, but you’ve done gone and put yourself up on the judge platform, so, you know, a well thought out decision statement is kinda on you.

        It is yet another another thing to say, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral and women who engage in it are sluts and men who engage in it are just doing what men do”, sure.

        Frankly, most people really don’t care about generic you’s judgment about sexual morality. If you think it’s problematic for reasons, that’s okay, talk about it. If you think it’s immoral, you’re past the border of the safe zone and you’re in the minefield, you should clarify what you mean and what your moral judgment actually includes.

        Because an awful lot of the folks who talk about sex being immoral are circumspect enough to avoid the follow up comment that dumps them into the clear misogyny bucket, and if you’re unwilling to say what you mean by, “I think sex outside of marriage is immoral”, people are probably going to naturally lump you in with the least charitable reading. Why should they give you a charitable reading? You already called them immoral :)

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      • Why should they give you a charitable reading?

        Patrick, I suppose much depends on one’s goals in an interaction (which could depend on who the other speaker is, and who is the audience, if any), but uncharitable readings tend to end conversation pretty quickly.

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    • It’s pretty tangential to the topic here, but that Pew poll is pretty poorly constructed.

      “Morally wrong / morally acceptable / not a moral issue” – that’s a weird split, and one that reveals, I think, that the ones constructing the poll haven’t thought about the meaning of the question very deeply and/or coherently. (Alternate hypothesis, I am the one whose thinking is incoherent, and I’m missing some important distinction)

      Surely “morally acceptable” consists of two subcategories – “morally acceptable because not a moral issue” and “morally acceptable because morally required”. Or am I missing a way in which the poll options are coherent? Seems to me a properly constructed split would be something like:
      – Morally wrong
      – Morally acceptable
      – Morally required

      Actually, I like that interpretation of the results – that way 22% of Americans would have believed sex between unmarried adults was a moral duty, just as 10% thought smoking marijuana was a duty, and 12% thought homosexuality was…

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      • I think, at this point, a goodly section of Americans have been trained, by religious chatter, that certain things are not ‘morally acceptable’…while _they don’t having any problem with them_.

        In 2006, a study came out. _97%_ of Americans, who have had sex by age 44, first had sex outside marriage. If Republicans want a study to look at, perhaps they should look at _that_ study. American adults have sex, period. If they are not married, they still have sex, period. There is not actually any debate here.

        This study, I suspect, is less ‘That is wrong and I won’t do it’, it’s ‘Those yammering religious people say it’s morally wrong, so whatever. I guess it is. But I, and the entire rest of the country, are still going to to it and not have the slightest problem with it.’

        I think we’re looking at the Overton window here, except instead of it moving, it has refused to move.(1) So, just like the the right movement of that has stupidly managed to classify most of the populations’s belief as ‘flaming liberal’ (Which has, indeed, blown up in their face.), the religious idiots who get interviewed on TV have stupidly managed to classify the entire adult population as immoral. Which will, of course, blow up in their face when young people start leaving an increasingly irrelevant church. *hold hand to ear* Oh, nevermind, that already happened.

        Please note the difference between those idiots and actual religious leaders who have realized that the Christianity actually has very little to say about sex outside marriage. Of course, actual religious leaders don’t get airtime on the ‘news’ channels.

        1) Although not really. Everyone likes to _pretend_ that no one had sex outside of marriage previously. Which is about as wrong as humanly possible. It’s just, back then, everyone was married, so people just had _affairs_. Or, if they were unmarried, they got married in a hurry if they got pregnant.

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      • I think “morally wrong” “not a moral issue” “morally admirable” might be more balanced (or “morally prohibited” “not a moral issue” “morally required”), but I fundamentally agree with you that it’s a wack way to set up a poll.

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  18. As usual Republicans play on parental fear here. There is some legitimacy to this concern and while I do not agree with Douthat, my own ideas regarding sex have changed dramatically since becoming a mother to three daughters. I would not encourage my former behavior as a young woman to my daughters because the danger I was too young to recognize then has not decreased in any significant manner. Social media provides a venue for predation and objectification of girls and young women that is easily accessible and acceptable. Trying to instill a positive, confident and healthy understanding of female sexuality in a culture which does not support those views of female sexuality is challenging.

    Things are far from equal or safe for women. I’m sorry but teenage girls posting sexy selfies do not have the maturity or true agency to understand the ramifications of what they are doing. Between online predation and shaming, girls are far more at risk. Children are exposed in ways they were not in the past and as a parent it is terrifying. This thread seems to focus on adult children mature enough to understand their sexuality. That is not my concern. I worry about my young daughters who are not emotionally or intellectually equipped to understand the complexities of sexuality in our culture. My concern that men I know and otherwise respect can quickly rationalize things like online pornography as women’s sexual agency while willfully ignoring that it promotes unhealthy ideals for girls, objectification and predation. Not looking at this as a moral issue, but as long as the majority of our culture promotes unequal treatment of women and sex, my girls are neither safe or free and if the the Republicans have anything right, it is this realization.

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    • My view from Canada would suggest that, while Republicans do promote a more restricted sexuality than Democrats, the reasoning behind it is not yours – that they are in fact utterly and unmovably opposed to anything that risks in any way promoting “a positive, confident and healthy understanding of female sexuality.”

      Remember what Mitt Romney had to say about Rush Limbaugh’s hateful attacks on Sandra Fluke? “It’s not the language I would have used.” That’s not the response of someone who hopes for women to become healthy and confident in their sexuality.

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      • Actually, although I didn’t word it clearly, it is merely the recognition by republicans of the legitimate worry of parents – not their analysis of why or what to do about it besides play on our fears.

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  19. Ungated copy of the original study in question here.

    36% of men and 35% of women thought that sex between unmarried adults was morally wrong, while 23% of men found it morally acceptable compared to 20% of women.

    This statistic is deceptive is a couple of ways.

    In context, it’s not necessarily a matter that the “women are right there with Douthat”, even if they answer a single simple question the same way. Indeed, right from the original study, one of the effects that’s noted is that having daughters increases support for abortion rights, despite the headline result. There is a significant partisan gender gap; if “right there with Douthat” means embracing the entire conventional social conservative program, then clearly more men than women are there.

    In the larger view, putting the statistic that way leaves the impression that the “sex between unmarried adults was morally wrong” position (which is, if I understand you correctly, your position), is the relative majority position, outnumbering those who think it’s morally acceptable. The excluded middle is not people who are undecided on the issue (only 4% are undecided), but the 37% of people who think that sex between unmarried adults is “not a moral issue”. Though this doesn’t affect your point about the nonexistent gender gap, it exaggerates popular support for your broader position. And if only a minority of women are socially conservative, it weakens your later argument about the internalized misogyny argument implicitly including the “‘women are weak-minded and need help, the poor dears’” claim.

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  20. I heartily agree with your second-to-last paragraph. But I think that when people show stronger concern for the sexual mores of young women than for those of young men, it indicates not only a conservative sexual ethos, but some level of sexism.

    If we really want to reduce promiscuity, a priority should be fighting against the idea that the number of women a man can sleep with is somehow indicative of his personal worth. There is at least some cultural idea remaining that virginity until marriage is a good thing for a woman. In contrast, our culture almost universally treats it as being an embarrassing thing for a man.

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