Sunday, March 26, 2006

Here's a quote from an e-mail a reader sent in to Andrew Sullivan's blog:

I am a married and childless 38 year old female who lives in the West Village in New York. I am considered a "liberal" by my deeply Republican siblings (3) who all live in Republican suburbs in various U.S. locations. (I am an "Economist" liberal -- i.e. a righty in the U.K. but that's not relevant.) While my siblings fiind[sic] my surroundings shocking (I live opposite a transvestite club), I am deeply shocked by what passes for normal in Republican suburbs. I spent some time researching and designing costumes for my 6-year old niece's dance recital because the costumes proposed and readily accepted by the majority of the mothers were in my eyes prostitute garb. I spent some time encouraging my sister to object to the costumes as only a handful of other mothers agreed with her that the proposed costumes were a bit risque for the 6-year old set.
This e-mail struck a chord with me. When it comes to theoretical and political sexual matters, I am very "liberal" and "permissive". I'm fine with homosexuality, alternative identities, non-standard romantic configurations (e.g. polyamory), though I'm not a member of any of those groups. And specifically, I find the strong puritanical, sex-negative streak in the right-wing/Christianist/Republican movement to be abhorrent and destructive and naive.

And yet, when it comes to day-to-day matters of displays of sexuality, I find I'm a bit of a prude compared to many people who I suspect are more puritanical than me in the political sense of the word. People in the American South ("The Bible Belt") may oppose gay marriage at a higher rate than those in my home town of Minneapolis. And I bet you'd find a higher percentage of folk who think that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong. But they sure dress more provacatively. And there seem to be more billboards for strip clubs in the parts of Texas I've been to (mainly around Dallas) than in more liberal parts of the country. Is my data wrong? Is it just a function of the weather? It's hard to show a lot of skin in Minneapolis in January if you want to avoid frostbite.

Is it only natural that there is an inverse relationship between moral puritanism and what one might call practical puritanism? Is the increased sexualization of women in more puritanical cultures a sublimation of sexual urges that are repressed in the realm of morality and religion? Are both puritanism and everyday sexualization correllated with the lower status of women in "traditional" (i.e. puritanical) culture? (But how does this fit with extremely puritanical cultures like those we hear about in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where women must cover themselves in manners that strike us as extreme?)

To put it more bluntly: If pre-marital sex is so wrong, why are you (and your kids, according the e-mailer quoted above) dressed like sluts? And don't blame it on evil secularist from the coasts. I live in Berkeley now, which is proudly leftist and permissive. But people here aren't nearly as hoochie as those in more rural parts of the state.

Is this related to what the execrable Anne Coulter was observing at the Democratic Convention (as she wrote in a USA Today column that got her fired) and reported here by

My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention.

And how come this seems to come out in female attire and mannerisms? Is it just that I (and Anne Coulter?) don't look at men? Or that mens' fashions are less variable over time and space than women's? Do men from puritanical segments of our culture have a different "sexual presentation" than men from "sexually liberated" segments of our culture, one that is just less visible to me than the sexual presentation of women? Are religious fundies just a bunch of repressed hypocrites, or is there something more interesting going on? Insight into this would be most welcome.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Welcome to my thoughts on things, which are certainly more important than your thoughts on things.