STOKING FIRE: The Chastity-Prolife Connection

Eleanor J. Bader

Generation Life’s mission, focused on the "chastity-prolife" connection, rests on the preaching of an ossified formula of gendered behavior that is both intensely rigid and rooted in fantasy.

Eleanor Bader writes a monthly column for Rewire.

Generation Life, a national Catholic youth group founded in
1999 by ultra-right winger Brandi Swindell, sees its raison d’être as pushing
“the chastity-prolife connection."

 

The West Chester, Pennsylvania-headquartered group “sidewalk
counsels” outside the Philadelphia Women’s Center at least once a month. It’s
the usual taunts and vitriol, say clinic staff and volunteers, but with a
twist–a message that can only be described as befuddling: “Chastity is for
lovers.”

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“They lecture us when they picket, saying, ‘God doesn’t want
sex outside of marriage. He gave us sex to propagate. Be chaste,’ ” Escort
Co-coordinator Chris Hill says. They also target particular demographics with
messages that they hope will resonate. African Americans patients, for example,
are warned that they might be murdering the next Barack Obama. Similarly, men
who accompany their girlfriends or wives to the facility are hit with machismo:
“Real men step up. They don’t kill their babies.”

And that’s the crux of Generation Life’s mission, the
preaching of an ossified formula of gendered behavior that is both intensely
rigid and rooted in fantasy. Their website, www.generationlife.org, lays out the
basics. In a section for young women, the instructions read like a roadmap for
submission. “A lady is modest, pure, and chaste, understands chastity, values
her sexuality, appreciates her fertility…Knows her body is a Temple of the Holy
Spirit…She loves babies and nurtures her family. She is the heart of her home,
finds strength in her husband, understands sacrificial love, and is happy and
content.“ In short, the message is simple: Suck it up, girls, and remember the
hierarchy.  Women obey men and men
obey God.

But that’s not all. In The World According to Generation
Life, “Dressing modestly is the frontline to chastity. It isn’t fair to say one
thing to a guy with verbal language and another with your body or clothes
language. If you make a commitment to living chastity, wearing skimpy, tight,
or revealing clothes will make it hard for you to attract the right kind of
guys to date.”

You can almost see Generation Life’s theoreticians shrugging
their shoulders and grinning impishly, as if to say, “boys will be boys,”
penile-driven creatures unable to resist the lust that has bedeviled
red-blooded [read straight] males, from peasants to presidents, since time
immemorial.

“Guys are stimulated differently than girls,” the website
adds. “Open mouth kissing will lead a guy to become sexually aroused but a girl
will simply feel more affection toward him…Guys have a higher sex drive and
girls have a higher love drive.” 
This dichotomy, Generation Life reports, requires “real” men to not only
be chaste, but to be chivalrous. “Girls don’t want to be the ones to initiate.
They want a guy who will initiate.”

It’s like a fairy tale, with Knights in Shining Armor protecting
needy damsels from external threats. The trick, of course, is having a quiver
full of children and opposing abortion and family planning.

It’s worth underscoring that opposition to abortion is a key
tool in Generation Life’s ideological toolbox. Indeed, it’s the hook used to
snare kids into paying attention to the group’s larger political messages—opposition
to gender equality and sexual freedom. 
In fact, in the workshops they offer in 7th and 8th
grade parochial school classrooms across the country, gory pictures of
allegedly aborted fetuses are used to gross out students. It’s then a short
leap from revulsion—after all, few of us relish looking at pictures of bloody
body parts—to the promotion of celibacy until marriage. Of course, 12 and 13
year olds who don’t know better are predictably receptive to black-and-white
rules about “chaste living,” dating, and sexual propriety.

Furthermore, few middle schoolers question the behavioral
tenets that Generation Life puts forward, all of them enforced and controlled
by girls and women.  Among them:
necklines should not be lower than four fingers below the collarbone; garments should
not be sheer, or made of thin material or spandex; snappy backs, halters, and
backless dresses or blouses should be avoided; tank tops should be covered by a
jacket or sweater; shirts should not be shorter than four fingers above the
knees; and pants should not be tight or form-fitting. If there are controls on acceptable
male apparel, they’re not listed on Generation Life’s roster of don’ts.

It’s one of the few areas in which the group’s behavioral
restrictions are in any way opaque. According to Amanda Kitterly, Director of
Clinic Affairs at the Philadelphia Women’s Center, Gen Life protesters not only
impose restrictions on how members are supposed to dress, the leadership views
the world as a place where hard-and-fast principles can be applied to relationships,
as if right and wrong are as clear-cut as day and night, straight and
crooked.  “They try to make good
women feel bad by standing outside the clinic and saying things like, ‘We can
tell you what’s right for your life. You’re wrong to have an abortion,’ “
Kitterly says. “If you ask them what they hope to accomplish by protesting at
the clinic, they’ll tell you that they’re there to preach God’s love. But it’s
so clear to me that this is not about either God or love. It’s about owning
women and governing what women do. It’s about judgment and hatred.” 

Lastly, please note that Generation
Life is not anomalous. Instead, it’s one of several “pro-chastity-prolife”
groups, among them, True Love Waits, The Abstinence Clearinghouse, and
lovematters.com.

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