The Guttmacher Institute has a new study out confirming what, until recently, I think many of us thought was an obvious point everyone understands: Women use contraception to manage their lives, achieve their life goals, and manage their economic realities. On this week’s podcast, I interview the study’s author Laura Lindberg, about their methodologies and the results, and I highly recommend checking that out. Considering the way that many right-wing pundits, from Rush Limbaugh to Bill O’Reilly, carry on about contraception like it’s only the province of out-of-control hedonists who wouldn’t know responsibility if it came in a neatly-labeled package, the interview is a breath of fresh air and common sense.
Of course, that means that in no way, shape, or form should we expect this important information to do anything to stop said right-wing pundits from raving like lunatics. For one thing, common sense and reason haven’t punctured their bubbles before, so there’s no real reason to think they’ll start listening to it now. The other reason is that even if they concede that women are using contraception so they can get an education and have a stable life before they have children (as well as control their family size after they have children), they’ll eventually come back around to what is really the issue here: Women are using contraception primarily to have sex.
Contraception is there so you can have sex while achieving your life goals, controlling your economic future, and maintaining your health. You can compare it to the process of taking a shower. If you were to ask me why I take showers, I’d probably look at you like you’re daft and say, “Well, to get clean.” I’d assume that it’s obvious why someone should want to be clean.
But if you kept pushing and asked me why I needed to be clean, I could probably come up with a bunch of good reasons for it: So that I can leave the house without offending people. So that I can hold down a job. For health reasons, because being grimy and dirty really isn’t good for you. So I can feel good about myself.
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Now imagine if we lived in a society where a number of large and powerful religious groups believed that women’s nakedness was a sin, and therefore women should never disrobe, even for showers. On top of that, such a society would also have a group of men who aren’t particularly religious and who like to make dirty jokes about naked women, but who are easily whipped up into a frenzy of anger at the thought of all the women out there taking showers that they don’t get to see. And in this society, those men join up with the religious fanatics and demand that women be banned from using any showers that draw water from shared sources, such as any municipality.
Obviously, feminists would be outraged. But these religious groups and angry conservative pundits would insist they’re not banning showers. They just don’t see why they have to pay for a public service that serves women who do something they disagree with. Feminists would point out that the women who shower also pay their water bill, so they should get the same service as everyone else, but these folks would insist that since the water itself is drawn from a common pool, there’s no separation between the water they paid for and the water women are showering with, and they don’t want to have to violate their religious/cultural beliefs by paying for water that might touch naked lady skin. They would argue that women are free to dig their own wells and pull all the water they want out of the ground themselves, if they want, but they just don’t want to be part of all this sinful showering.
Feminists would then publish a bunch of studies showing that women need showers for things like holding jobs, running errands, and being pleasant around the house. These studies would have a lot of important functions. They would be wielded by politicians supporting “fair access” laws to showers. They would be used in court to protect against lawsuits from religious organizations demanding the right to kick women out of the water system. But most importantly, they would help demonstrate to the public at large how disingenuous these anti-shower people really are.
After all, the argument from the religious groups and conservative pundits would be, “We don’t hate women! We want women to be equal. We don’t mind if they hold down jobs and leave the house. If our religious beliefs somehow get in the way of that, it’s totally a coincidence and not our intention at all!”
Armed with these studies, however, we could point out how ridiculous they’re being. We’d be able to start getting the people who buy the claim that it’s just a religious rule guarding women’s chastity and instead get them to think about how the negative social effects may, in fact, be what they wanted all along. That perhaps keeping women dirty and ashamed and not able to leave the house is the point. That maybe they don’t want women to get jobs and get educated and be equal with men. That perhaps the anti-nudity weirdness and claims about their “right” not to share water with women who use it to shower is all a grand cover story for what is actually a larger-scale attack on women’s basic rights.
Which is all something to think about when anti-choicers invariably bring the conversation back to the claim that contraception is about “lifestyle choices” or “your sex life,” implying that this is simply about the sex part of the equation, and they have no intention of trying to muck things up for women outside of the bedroom. Is it really possible that they somehow believe that contraception is wrong without also supporting the negative side effects of depriving women of contraception? Or is keeping women from finishing their educations, holding down jobs, and living as equal to men the entire point?