Three recent news stories. You’ve probably already heard about them ad nauseum, so I’ll just recap them quickly so I can get to my point.
Story One: Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a foundation organized to fight breast cancer, recently pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, one of the major providers of breast cancer screenings for women around the country. A massive public outcry ensued — and Susan G. Komen apologized and reversed its decision, and the official generally seen as responsible for the decision resigned, all as a direct result of the fiasco.
Story Two: The Blunt Amendment, a law that would have permitted employers to refuse to fund health insurance coverage for birth control or any other medical service they had religious or moral objections to, began to wind through Congress. A massive public outcry ensued — and the amendment was voted down in the Senate.
Story Three: Rush Limbaugh spent three days spewing vitriol at a young woman, Sandra Fluke, who had testified before Congress in opposition to the Blunt Amendment, calling her (among many other things) a “slut” and a “prostitute” for supporting employer-paid birth control, and saying that she should have to post public sex videos if she wanted her birth control paid for by government funding. (Which she didn’t say, but never mind.) A massive public outcry ensued — and advertisers are pulling out of his program in droves, with some affiliates pulling his program altogether.
There’s a common theme to all these stories. And it’s making me very proud of my fellow countrypeople.
The theme: Americans are creating massive public outcries in favor of birth control.
Translation: Americans are creating massive public outcries in favor of sex for pleasure, sex for reasons other than procreation, sex for sex’s own sake. Americans are willing to stand up and acknowledge that they have sex because it feels good — and they are creating massive public outcries when people try to interfere with that, or try to shame them about it.
This tickles me for a couple of reasons. Partly it tickles me to see how laughably out of touch the Republican Party is with the mainstream of American thought. The Republican Party has been trying to run this year on a morality campaign (possibly to shore up their base, possibly because the economy is getting better and they don’t have anything else to run on). But the horses they’ve decided to flog — birth control and gay rights — just don’t run like they used to. Most Americans are pretty okay with gay people: more than half now support same-sex marriage. And most Americans are pretty okay with birth control. More than okay. They’re actively positive about it. They’re entirely comfortable with it. They see birth control as a normal, healthy part of an adult life. And they’re willing to say so.
And that, just in itself, makes me happy.
I’ve been watching some of the news around the Rush Limbaugh disaster, and there’s an interesting trend I’m seeing. Older people, people in their fifties and sixties, are seriously pissed off about it. The woman Limbaugh was lambasting is their daughters’ age. And they are not okay with their daughters getting slut-shamed for using birth control and for supporting it.
And it occurred to me: This is the birth control generation. This is the generation that came into adulthood in the sixties and seventies, when birth control was starting to become normalized. This is the generation — and I don’t know why this should surprise me, I’m fifty, it’s my generation too — that sees birth control, not as a sign of uncontrolled wantonness, but as a sign of responsibility, and of making smart choices about sexuality and parenthood. And they raised their kids with that attitude. And those kids are now adults.
And when Rush Limbaugh, and Susan G. Komen, and Congress, all tried to get in the way of birth control, Americans of all ages refused to let it happen. They refused to be shamed into pretending that they don’t have the sex lives they actually do. They stood up. They stood up on Facebook and Twitter, in emails and phone calls and letters to the editor, and they said out loud, “Yes, we use birth control. We decide for ourselves when and if to have babies — and we have sex regardless, for its own sweet sake. And you will not shame us into pretending that we don’t.”
I’m proud of a lot of people right now. I’m proud of feminists who have been pushing this issue for decades, back before it was so popular. I’m proud of sex-positive activists who have been working for decades to shift the sexual culture away from one of reflexive guilt and shame, and towards one with more honesty and with ethics based on actual ethics.
But right now, I’m also proud of ordinary Americans, who have been going on an unabashed rampage in support of sex that doesn’t result in babies. This is a new development in our electoral and cultural politics, and I’m intensely proud to see it happen.