Friday, October 06, 2017

This Week in the Politics of Women's Sexuality: Hugh Hefner, Harvey Weinstein and the Coverage of Contraceptives in the Trump Era

1.  I had a long post on Hugh Hefner (the 91-year old Playboy (!) who died in late September) almost ready for publishing when I came across Katha Pollitt's take on his importance and influence.  It's so beautifully written, so elegant and so exhaustive that you should just read it instead of whatever scribblings I had in my draft version.

What struck me when reading many of the accolades to Hefner was the frequent assertion that he was the vanguard fighter of the sexual liberation, the sexual revolution, and all the good and bad things that came from that.

My parable to his influence is this:  Suppose that people in the past had eaten their dinners only huddled down in dark street corners, with whispered conversations, all the time pretending that they didn't eat at all, and then along came this man, Hefner,  who laid it all out in brightly-lit dining rooms, course after course of delicious morsels, rare tidbits, juicy steaks, and all were invited to openly eat and enjoy!

Except that being invited to that dinner meant different things to different guests.  Some were given forks and knives and napkins and a comfortable seat at the end of the table, others were told to lie down naked on a large platter while holding bunches of parsley in their armpits, carrots in their groins and an apple in their mouths.

So.  That's a little exaggerated, of course, but the point is that Hefner's sexual liberation was mostly aimed at his market of heterosexual men and consisted of the kinds of daydreams that group might have about sexual titillation.  The question of what sexual liberation meant for, say, women in general wasn't part of his agenda.

2.  The Trump administration is a gift that keeps on giving to those who voted for the return of a particular type of patriarchy.  The most recent of its presents has been unwrapped only recently:  The contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act is going to be rolled back.  Most any type of employer, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, can now argue that providing contraceptive coverage hurts their religious or moral beliefs.

This is particularly hilarious:

In the new rules, the Trump administration says the Affordable Care Act does not explicitly require coverage of contraceptives.
The administration lists health risks that it says may be associated with the use of certain contraceptives, and it says the mandate could promote “risky sexual behavior” among some teenagers and young adults.

Right.  And unprotected sex is without any risks whatsoever, right?

Have you noticed how the Republicans no longer even bother trying to think of good arguments for their desire to kill whatever was created during the Obama era?

This move is payback to the fundamentalist Republican voters.  It's also payback to the forced-birthers who want every slut who has sex to suffer the proper punishment for it, which is giving birth, and who also seem to think that heterosexual intercourse is something those sluts do alone, inside a closet or under a bed.

Yet in reality contraceptives help those women's partners to avoid unplanned fatherhood, too, and free contraception is one of the most effective ways of reducing abortion rates among poor women. But that looks too much like carrots rather than the whip those sluts deserve.  Hence the recent House ban on abortions after twenty weeks and right after it the promise not to help with contraceptive expenses, either!

This whole debacle reminds me of a Facebook comment by a Trump-voter, who stated that he was very happy with Trump's much expanded global gag rule.  He stressed that he was all for women's reproductive choice, but he didn't want to pay for it, especially in other countries.

That high unplanned fertility rates at, say, South-Saharan Africa, are a direct cause of increased poverty, increased fights for resources, and ultimately higher rates of warfare seems not to have occurred to him.  That excess population growth not only increases the local demand for resources such as land and water, but is also one of the main reasons why large numbers of people become migrants, knocking at the doors of the United States and Europe, seems to have escaped him altogether.  That increased access to contraception in poorer countries might ultimately make the whole world more peaceful doesn't seem to matter at all.  Only his wallet, and even that only in the shortest of runs.

3.  Finally, the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment case.  Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment by many women over three decades, as a New York Times investigation reveals:

During that time, after being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women, according to two company officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after, according to records and those familiar with the agreements.
Weinstein's own explanation for his behavior oddly reflects Hugh Hefner's influence on the so-called sexual liberation.  Weinstein writes:

I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.

In terms of my own earlier parable, he thought that all the dishes laid out on those sexual tables were his to sample.

The problem with such behavior is naturally the power imbalance, the fact that Weinstein wielded tremendous influence over the future potential careers of the young women he accosted, and that this influence made the decision how to react to his advances a Catch-22 dilemma for those women.