Thursday, April 27, 2006

Take My Agenda, Please

Approximately a-millionth in an occasional series on why the pro-choice, pro-contraception mainstream sucks so hard. Or rather, on how they do; I couldn't presume to guess at why.

Today's example comes from, bet you didn't see this coming, Glamour magazine. What? I read it religiously every week while I'm having my face botoxed! OK fine, somebody sent it around to one of my listservs. But I could read don't know.

Ahem. The article, which is actually pretty decent, is about the sad state of sexual/personal freedom for American women, with special regard for how government agencies and programs have been hijacked by ultraright agendas, resulting in all those abstinence-only sex-ed classes, the FDA's shenanigans over Plan B approval, gutting of foreign HIV/AIDS prevention assistance, &c. It contains the following quote, from someone theoretically on our side:
"Abstinence is a laudable goal," says Deborah Arrindell, vice president of health policy for the nonpartisan American Social Health Association, an STD-awareness group. "But it is not how young women live their lives—the reality is that most women have premarital sex. Our government is focusing not on women's health but on a moral agenda."
What is a WHAT??! WHY please? Explain to me in 50 words or less why on earth abstinence is a 'laudable goal'. The only possible reason, absent a whole barrel of case-specific modifiers I don't see her providing, could be that sex is Bad. In fact, Arrindell's whole argument is framed around that notion: we tacitly acknowledge that sex is Bad and ideally to be avoided, but what can we do? Young women will do the bad thing, so we must take pragmatic action to pick up the pieces when they inevitably succumb to the not-laudable.

This is a horrifically patronizing argument, which like so many of the crypto-moralist 'necessary evil' arguments of the pro-choice mainstream (see especially the purulent patriarchalist William Saletan), accepts and expands on anti-choice's infantilization and moral de-agentification of women.

Look. I can't believe I have to spell this out, especially to our own damn side. Sex is not bad, nor is avoiding it in any way inherently admirable. Sex in 2006 is women's right, and what we as a society owe both young women and young men (but especially women, on whose bodies is visited so vastly much more of the consequences of ignorance) is the information and material tools necessary to exercise that right in a way that doesn't do harm to themselves or others.

If we cede the moral terrain once again to the forces of reaction, we're reduced to a position of shamefaced special pleading: we know it's wrong, but it happens so we have to deal with it. This is not only undignified and unnecessary, it's actively wrong. No fucking quarter for those who seek to infantilize and stigmatize women for having sex. By trying to shy away from taking a moral stand, we simply abdicate the moral position to those who are unafraid to prosecute their own repugnant one with vigor. We have the right, nay even the obligation to a moral stand. We who support sex education, contraception and emergency contraceptive measures for women of all ages have nothing to apologize for. We are young women's champions, not their corruptors.

And another thing. I admire Susan Wood for stepping down from the FDA over Plan B, I really do. She put her career where her mouth is, and good on her. But I confess I grow impatient with all the decent liberals who are only now finding themselves shocked--shocked!--to discover that politics plays a role in 'scientific' decision-making. 'Scientists do not normally engage in what is going on in Washington, D.C., or politics,' says Wood. The New England Journal of Medicine ran an editorial on the Plan B brouhaha entitled 'A Sad Day for Science at the FDA,' commenting that the decision 'appeared to reflect political meddling in the drug-approval process.'

No! Can it be that the sterile, impregnable fastnesses of scientific evaluation have suddenly and inexplicably been breached by the creeping contagion of political influence? How fucking tiresome and thick. If these people honestly believe that 'pure science', not to mention science concerned with product consumption like drug approvals, has not been thick-woven with political and economic influence from the Enlightenment on, they're--well, they're exactly as analysis-challenged as you'd have thought they were.

How do they think NIH grant allocations are awarded? By divine impartial fiat from the God of Meritorious Research? Do they think we're not all cruising around now gently farting water vapor from our hydrogen-cell vehicles into a clear blue ozone-rich sky because alternative-fuels research is a dead end and undeserving of funding? Do they think we have no specific data on healthy blood-cholesterol levels in women because women are physiologically identical to men and therefore don't require gender-specific research trials?

Science is always already lousy with politics, you lazy fucking ninnies. Read fucking Steven Rose, people. Read Levins & Lewontin. Even at the level of the individual investigator, there is no such thing as conducting scientific research without political/material bias. The best you can do is be aware of your bias, and how it interacts with the biases around you, and if possible use it to triangulate with the biases outside your control. But that requires acknowledgement that the bias is there, is everywhere. By perpetuating the bankrupt notion of 'pure' research unsmudged by the grubby pawmarks of politics and commerce, these people (often with, I fully allow, genuine good intentions) do as much as the Hagers and Winkenwerders to perpetuate the unchecked control and exploitation of scientific institutions by the wielders of capitalist political power.

Addition: Great Counterpunch piece here by Sherry Wolf saying, basically, exactly what I've been saying for a year: the Dems are profoundly not our friends in the pro-choice movement, and neither are NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW. Only she says it better, with more research, and in Counterpunch.

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