The XX Factor

Intra-Conservative Sex Scolding

Sarah Palin's shoes.
Sarah Palin’s shoes during her address at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Watching an artifice that was painstakingly constructed over a period of decades crumble in a week is really a rare treat in politics, so it’s really important to take time to enjoy this week, which will be known as the week when social conservative claims to be interested in “fetuses” or “religious liberty” or anything but indulging an obsessive desire to control sex collapsed in a heap. It’s almost as if the artifice were constructed out of pick-up sticks, and Obama pulled out the stick holding up the entire structure with his neat little compromise that allows women to get contraception coverage even if they work for a religiously-affiliated institution that refuses to cover it. This week had Rep. Darrell Issa’s male-centric hearing on contraception rights gaffe, Foster Friesse dusting off that ancient joke about how women should just hold the pill between their legs if they don’t want to get pregnant, and the Virginia state legislature passing a mandatory ultrasound law with comments basically admitting that it’s an excuse to punish women who want abortions with a little forcible vaginal penetration. One is reminded of the practice of “corrective rape” that’s emerged in South Africa to control women who have unsanctioned sex lives, in this case by being lesbians. Corrective rape is much more serious, but at least South Africa doesn’t mandate it by law.

But by far, the most delightful spilling of the right wing id this week was a spasm of Church Lady scolding from first Erick Erickson and then Melissa Clouthier, aimed at the young people of CPAC for the high crime of acting like young people, instead of shunning fun so as not to make their crabby elders jealous. Erickson singled out the young men of CPAC for criticism for drinking, flirting, and–gasp!--buying condoms. (I’m just going to note that at the liberal conferences I’ve been to, there’s no need to buy condoms, since you usually have organizations like Planned Parenthood cheerfully donating basketfuls of them. Just another perk of being on the left; your fellow travelers don’t hate you for having fun, but instead just want you to be safe while you play.) Clouthier was interested in policing women for clothes that suggest there’s a body underneath them and telling young women no one will marry you if word gets out that you like having sex. I guess she’s suggesting conservative men are terrified of having to live with a woman who might on occasion want to get naked and get busy, suggesting to me that the differences between liberals and conservatives might be more vast than I thought.  

As reported in Politico, these posts caused a debate amongst right wing blogs, which I will summarize thusly: Should we hold ourselves to the standards we hold others to, or is scolding others for unsanctioned sexytimes only something we reserve for everyone else? As of now, this debate remains unresolved, but should Team Erickson/Clouthier win this one, may I suggest a solution to keep CPAC from tweaking the sensitivities of the increasingly prudish? Why not simply segregate men and women, giving them separate tracks and minimizing the opportunities for fraternization? Sure, the women might not like being put on the babies-and-weddings track instead of the policy-and-politics one, but if they complain, organizers can just pull a Darrell Issa and tell them that this isn’t about sex, but about religious freedom or something. I hear they have to accept that kind of thing at face value.