Grids of Conflict and Sources of Change
Sexuality is not merely symbolic, an acting out of fantasies and norms received from the dominant culture (family, church, media, films, and novels). It is primarily social and is experienced through social relationships, not only with immediate sexual partners but also with the agents of sexual authority and classification: parents, peers, religious figures, and medical professionals. The social relations of sex, which involve class and race as well as generational and gender divisions, are riddled with conflict, differences in power, and sometimes resistances to power; these are at least as important as the weight of traditional morality in determining the meanings of sexual encounters and the likelihood of contraception or unwanted pregnancy.
This social content makes sexual experience historical—subject to change over time—as well as specific to age, gender, and other social categories. Sexuality for contemporary teenage women may function as a theater in which gender-specific behavior is learned and practiced (waiting for a phone call, seeing what will "happen" to you, fearing rejection if you don’t accommodate—all the rituals of female passivity and compliance). At the same time, it is an area for staking out individual identity, for risk taking and //gamesmanship,/ in exploring the self, the body, and the boundaries between one’s self, one’s parents, and "boys."43 The accessibility of birth control and legal abortion has not generated a sexual revolution in the sense of a transformation of traditional norms of female sexual passivity. But it has widened the latitude for such explorations to take place, providing a "safety net." The widespread availability of birth control and abortion to teenagers has made it possible for sexuality and pregnancy to become an extension of adolescence, or a dimension of it, rather than a passage or threshold to "growing up." From the survey literature, one derives a striking picture of not only sex (including sex talk as well as sex performance) but also its concomitants—birth control, pregnancy, and abortion—as critical arenas in which dependent young women map out their identities and sense of separateness. As a large – scale social phenomenon, this may be historically new. I shall first describe some of the dynamics that construct these grids of conflict and self-exploration, then ask what might be their basis in the common and different social circumstances of contemporary teenage women.
A powerful teenage subculture—known to social scientists as "peer pressure" and to conservatives as "dope and sex"—was certainly not the product of birth control and legal abortion. But access to birth control and abortion, without parental knowledge or approval, might well have strengthened the sense that teenagers, particularly women, have of their collective identity. The influence of peer norms about sexual behavior is complex; it may help define a sphere of "otherness" from parents, which is both separate and safe, or it may pull some teenagers in directions that make parental sanctions a not unwelcome protection. Some of the teenage girls interviewed by Burkhart found themselves confronted with new codes, new standards of performance, which put pressure on them to "lose their virginity" and garner sexual conquests as a way to "score points" with girl friends.44 If they feel unready for such "performance," the terrain of sexuality may still serve the purpose of defining the adolescent’s separate (peer-related) identity through sex talk, even through boasting or lying about sexual experiences.
In the struggle to assert independence from parents or explore the boundaries between childhood and adulthood through sexual events, pregnancy itself may become a kind of resource. Some of the frequently cited psychological reasons why teenagers have sexual intercourse without using birth control (thinking "it can’t happen to me" or wondering whether it can, confusion about when pregnancy may occur or wondering whether it might)45 may be a kind of test of the borders of "maturity," of one’s separateness from or connection to the family. All of the contraceptive nonusers in Zimmerman’s study were high school students living at home. In terms that echo Luker’s description of the "benefits of pregnancy," particularly in reaction to parents, she quotes young women who enjoyed their pregnancy (prior to abortion), using it as a time to fantasize about moving out of their mother’s house and in with their boy friend; perceiving it as a way of "rebelling against" parents and asserting their own separateness, or alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) of winning parents’ attention and sympathy. "… I was doing everything I could possibly think of and I thought if I would have got pregnant or if I told them that I was pregnant or something like that, then maybe they would sit down and finally just listen to me for awhile. . . ."46 Again, the fact of pregnancy and not its outcome is the focus47—pregnancy as a visible sign of sexual initiation, sexuality as a sign of individual identity. And at the same time a warning that will bring daughter and parents "closer," warding off for a while the separateness that neither yet fully wants. Using contraception renders the sexuality, the "act," invisible and thus undercuts its efficacy as a medium of self-assertion. "She didn’t think I was like that," comments one of the young women about her mother’s reaction to her pregnancy and its mutually understood meaning.48
The resolution of pregnancy, either through abortion or childbirth, also serves as a means to negotiate relations with parents, or between parents and boy friends, a means that is frequently hostile and perceived (correctly) as dangerous. Many different combinations of negotiated outcome appear in the survey literature—all of them involving explicit conflicts with parents and sometimes with peers. In some cases, peer pressure, instead of supporting young women’s decision to get an abortion, seems to be heavily against it. In some cases parents insist on immediate abortion as a means of reasserting their control; in others, they reject abortion as "murder," in a volley of hostility that plainly reflects feelings about their daughter’s sexuality.49 In some cases young girls living at home who get pregnant are clearly not interested in bearing a child so much as in commanding their parents’ attention; in others, they express a strong desire to have a baby in defiance of parental wishes and see themselves as weaker, less determined, for having relented to get an abortion.50
In a study of black rural teenagers, the cultural fact that pregnancy and childbirth would ultimately win these young women enhanced prestige and "adult status" within the household and community was often tempered by the initial experience of resistance, anger, and abuse from adult female kin. If this hostile reaction grew too overbearing, the women would redefine their situation by seeking an abortion or looking to the male partner for protection.51 Whatever the outcome, it is clear that, at least during a particular stage, a pregnancy and its resolution represent a critical struggle for power and control between young women and their parents and between them and their male partners. Working through this struggle is an emotionally charged, powerfully affecting experience that usually leaves teenage girls feeling older, transformed, on the other side of childhood. Notice, however, that they are active participants in constructing the sexual terms of the struggle and not just passive victims.
But why should sexuality and pregnancy or abortion be the crucible through which teenage women individuate from their parents, discover who they are? The ambiguity in sexual power relations and the fact that teenage women may experience sex as the arena in their lives in which they feel the most powerful, even though that arena remains circumscribed by age, gender, and class hierarchies, helps to explain this phenomenon. I wish to argue that the reasons why sexuality and pregnancy function in this way, in the present historical context, are not only psychoanalytic in origin—and certainly are not just the by-product of "immorality"—but can be mapped in the ambiguous social situation of most teenage women today. This situation differs for different groups, yet there are conditions that the majority of teenage women share. For one, as suggested above, they are in the anomalous position of being at once infantilized by the cult of virginity (codified, for example, in statutory rape and "age of consent" laws) and objectified by the media’s cult of "Lolita"; at the same time, they have few real resources for independence. "Not independent in society (and therefore not responsible for the consequences of their actions), [some] teenaged girls accept the risk of pregnancy rather than consciously separate sexual intercourse from procreation. . . ."52 If they are poor or working class, their sense of limited alternatives may extend into an indefinite future. As Nick Freudenberg points out, based on clinical work with pregnant adolescents, "at some level. . . teenagers consider their other options for adult roles—through education, employment, social networks, etc.—and see their prospects as pretty bleak. Sex [and pregnancy] becomes one of the few ways to be like adults that isn’t stamped down by the broader social structures."53
Objective limits on teenage women’s social power may help construct the "outcomes" of sex and birth control. The modes and resources for seizing sexual and contraceptive initiative—including locations and opportunities for sex, birth control methods and delivery systems, and money— are intrinsically the tools of the powerful (i. e., adults, parents, doctors), but not young teenage women. Most teenagers, male or female, are essentially poor; having the money for condoms, pills, or a visit to a doctor or a clinic—even if you have the motivation—is no small matter if you are fifteen (i. e., Brooke Shields is a media fantasy in the tradition of Horatio Alger). Moreover, nurses, physicians, and clinics function as gatekeepers to accurate knowledge and assurance about contraceptive alternatives for teenage girls, and their authority (to prescribe or withhold) can have a negative influence on contraceptive use. For some teenagers, their lack of funds and minority status, as well as the bureaucratic requirements of clinic services, create sufficient barriers to prevent the acquisition of "contraceptive skills":
… if they went to a government-funded "family planning" clinic (the very name is enough to turn most teenagers off), they would have been required to document parental income to obtain subsidized services. Given the guilt and ambivalence surrounding the introductory phase of sexual activity, it is not surprising that many younger teenagers chose, under these circumstances, to engage in sexual intercourse without contraception and take their chances with pregnancy.54
Teenage women living at home are inevitably influenced by their parents’ power over them and control of their time, resources, and future. While this power does not and will not deter most teenagers from engaging in sex, it does affect the levels and timing of their birth control use and their need for abortion. Some girls, for example, shy away from getting contraceptives for fear their mother will "find them lying around the house."55 Lack of privacy acts as a deterrent against contraception. A study of twelve hundred teenage family planning clinic patients (all female) in large cities around the country found that 42 percent delayed their first visit to a clinic for a period of between three months and several years after their "first intercourse." Thirty-six percent came only when they suspected they were pregnant. The main reason given for this delay, other than suspecting pregnancy, was the fear that their parents would find out.56 Similar fears motivate many teenagers who get abortions not to tell their parents about it. A recent survey of teenage patients in five thousand abortion clinics found that 55 percent of those surveyed had informed their parents that they were going to obtain an abortion, but only 38 percent had told them voluntarily, since some were required to do so by the clinic’s regulations or state law. The study concluded that nearly one-quarter would not have come to the clinic if required to tell their parents, "that a sizeable proportion of teenagers believe that the notification of parents would put them in a desperate situation and that they would be forced to resort to desperate measures to deal with it" (presumably, illegal or self-induced abortion or worse).57
The depth of teenage women’s fears of "telling parents" reflects the continued mystification of sex by the dominant culture, particularly for young women. Along with the series of double messages discussed earlier, this mystification includes parental resistance to the idea of their daughters’ sexual being and their strategies to control or, more often, ignore it. These strategies present cues that set up sexuality, contraception, and abortion as areas of potential conflict and provoke the anticipation—not at all irrational—of some terrible consequence, perhaps not physical violence but mental and emotional stress and disapproval. Such dynamics are particularly relevant in the case of fathers and their authority in the intrafamilial sexual power struggle. Evidence suggests that the relationship of the two parents to a daughter’s abortion experience is not the same and that mothers are more likely to be told and more likely to extend sympathetic support. In Minnesota, where parental notification is required by state law, seeking an abortion becomes a common struggle of mother and daughter:
Easily 25 percent of Meadowbrook’s clients are minors, and for many the abortion itself is preceded by a harrowing day in court trying to secure a waiver from a judge against having to tell parents. Not uncommonly, mother and daughter are thrown into a conspiracy against a wrathful father who they fear will never be able to understand how his daughter came to such a sorry pass.58
The sexual shame and fear associated with abortion for a young teenage girl, it would seem, is deeply locked into parental authority. Shame and fear contribute to her need for abortion (her delay in getting contraception) and are reinforced through the paternal anger and disappointment that the abortion evokes. More serious still is the likelihood that many out-of-wedlock births among teenage girls—it is impossible to estimate how many—result from the fact that they "deny the reality as long as possible, often until it’s too late even to consider an abortion."59 This denial/delay syndrome is the direct by-product of a fear bred of a still punitive, female-blaming sexual culture whose agents are often fathers.
Relations with male sexual partners may also generate conflicts that discourage rather than encourage contraceptive use. In most of the abortion surveys, male partners neither knew nor cared about contraception, considering it the "woman’s responsibility." This attitude is reinforced by most birth control and abortion clinics, which cater to a female clientele, as well as by the culture at large. But the conflict is usually experienced as an interpersonal one, with the woman perceiving that, given the availability of abortion, the man thinks of sex as something that has no painful consequences for her. Many of the men surveyed refused to use condoms or had a basic misunderstanding of the biological aspects of women’s reproductive cycle and distanced themselves from it (even though they might later, if the woman became pregnant, feel they ought to have some say in whether she got an abortion). In this context, the woman’s nonuse of contraception may be a kind of resistance, though a primitive and self-defeating one. "The structural situation. . . ‘sets up’ a man to be detached and noncommitted to this vital part of the sexual relationship, and women often feel not that they have ‘control over their own bodies’ but that they are being used."60 One of Luker’s respondents expressed annoyance at the idea of being a "sexual service station" that regular pill use seemed to imply. And one in Zimmerman’s group complained:
… I just felt like if I took [the pill] he’d know, "Well, she’s taking the pill. I can do it all the time." I didn’t want that. I wanted him to be with me because he wanted to be with me, not to fool around. [Did you ever discuss condoms?] Yeah. He went and bought some one time, but he just—he didn’t like it. He’d just take it right off.61
This kind of statement should not be read as a rejection of sex or sexuality, but as a rejection of a particular mode of sexuality with which the pill has become identified. That mode is fixated on genital intercourse (and thus male-oriented) and emotionally noncommittal (thus disconnected from "the relationship," or caring). It is not only that teenage girls may be coerced or pressured into having sex with boys or fear rejection if they refuse, although that is surely part of the reality.62 It is also that many young men—who are using the terrain of sexuality to test out their identity as "masculine" in a sexist and male-dominant culture— may not be the most adroit or sensitive sexual partners. When pitted against young women’s continued concern with affection and a "relationship," male sexual posturing may account for the "sporadic" pattern of young teenage women’s early sexual activity and their failure to associate sex with pleasure. Resistance to the idea of herself as sexual object, wanting confirmation, within the sexual experience, of her worth and needs as a person, may be the other face of sexual and contraceptive "noncommitment" for some teenage women. It is a contemporary echo of the sentiments of Victorian feminists who distrusted birth control and abortion as tools that would further sexual abuse by men. The difference is that today access to safe, legal abortion has become a condition making it possible both to be sexual as a young woman and to avoid a sexual "availability" that traditional morality and female prudence find troublesome.
In the context of sexual and familial power relations, then, both noncontraception and abortion may represent a woman’s resistance to, rather than her compliance with, dominant norms of behavior. For some women surveyed, the main point of deciding on an abortion seemed to be an assertion of their autonomy and needs vis-a-vis the men with whom they were involved. They would decide, not he. This was certainly the case among women who found themselves under pressure from male partners to have the baby and get married regardless of the impact that early marriage and childbearing would have on their lives.63
Yet, having said all this about the cultural and social-structural bases of teenage non contraception, it is time to emphasize that this is not the dominant reality but a diminishing one. The majority of sexually active (meaning heterosexually active) teenagers do not get pregnant—indicating that many use birth control effectively. Over 60 percent of teenage women negotiate sexuality and birth control without unwanted pregnancies or abortions, despite conflicting cultural and ideological pressures; despite parental disapproval or avoidance; despite the guilt-laden messages of religious organizations and the New Right; despite male irresponsibility and presumption; despite lack of resources, money and privacy; and despite bureaucratic and medical barriers to decent information and care.64 Moreover, despite the persistent conditions of sex and gender conflict, many men and women—including teenagers—manage to cooperate in birth control and abortion use, enjoy sex together, and get along.
There were men who played a supportive and comforting role in the abortion experience and its emotional stresses.65 Some young men definitely "felt birth control was the girl’s responsibility not theirs," but others had a strong sense of mutual responsibility and concern (which, however, seemed to be more intense when the girl involved was a "girl friend" and not just any "girl"). Against what Burkhart calls "the myth of the macho male," many of the boys she interviewed manifested concern "with the quality of a relationship as a prerequisite for sexual intercourse." (Many, however, didn’t, and their attempts to show "the gang" their prowess, as well as their resentment of sexually assertive women, suggest that the "macho male" is alive and well.) Boys resented social pressures on them "to prove themselves sexually" or to "prove their masculinity" through sex; they also preferred sex when they were "really in love," setting limits based on their feelings about the relationship, and not wanting to be used or objectified sexually by girls 66
All this is not to suggest that heterosexual relations among teenagers are without conflicts but that sexuality and gender relations may develop along somewhat different trajectories. A teenage girl in a relationship or sexual encounter with a teenage boy confronts a male whose situation is not very different from her own. With little more money or likelihood of having a job, just as little autonomy from parents and teachers, and equivalent adolescent uncertainty about who he is or what he will become, he is perhaps more her equal than most men are likely to be ever again in her life. Macho culture, high school sports, teen romances, and rock music may mystify these realities, but as ideological props of male superiority, they are constructed on a rather tenuous economic and social base.
Just as the image of the macho teenage male needs to be qualified, the image of female passivity and "noncommitment" to heterosexual sex may be inappropriate today. The rural black teenagers in Dougherty’s study, for example, are impressive in the freedom, versatility, and self – assertion with which they organize their sexual lives. Using complex strategies and the support of female kin and peer networks, stressing "diversity in partners" and the desire not to be "tied down," their view of sexual relations is one that straightforwardly aims at optimizing pleasure and maximizing their own control67 One is struck by aspects in the sexual lives of these Florida teenagers and their marked contrast to the values and modes depicted in the (mainly white) groups surveyed in abortion studies. For one thing, the sexual experiences of these young black women seem much less isolated, much more integrated into relations with girl friends (the "peer group"), who lend advice and support throughout the "initiation phase" of sex; the male is not the total focus of the experience. For another, romanticism, as opposed to eroticism, would seem to be at a minimum here; courtship is strongly infused with an "element of play," and the idea of linking one’s future to one man is disdained. "Most girls do not talk about ‘love.’ They speak about ‘being crazy’ about a man, meaning that they cannot keep their mind off of him, feel that they want him permanently, and would ‘do anything’ to ‘get him.’ "68
Studies of black women’s kinship and sexual arrangements make it clear that young black women’s attitudes toward sex and men often grow out of both the realities of racism and black male unemployment and the positive image of black women in charge of matrifocal households. They document the prevalence in black female cultural networks—urban and rural, intrapeer and intergenerational—of skepticism about how much you can rely on men and advice to daughters or younger kin to be self – reliant and resourceful in their relations with men.69 These values, emphasizing women’s sexual self-reliance as well as the communal value of babies and motherhood, also reinforce the general support among black kin networks for out-of-wedlock childbearing and their opposition to forced or precipitous marriage.70 The strength of female support networks to help raise a child and the positive value attached to motherhood as that which perpetuates the community and signifies a woman’s ascent to adulthood may be incentives not to use contraception nor seek abortion. But clearly, in this case, noncontraception has nothing to do with "noncommitment to sex."
What is relevant to the current "crisis" around teenage sexuality is that this kind of playful, self-assertive sexual code exists among some white middle-class teenage girls as well. There is reason to suppose that a changing sexual consciousness has accompanied the changing conditions analyzed in Chapter 4. For many young women surveyed, the assumption that nonmarital sex is a fact of life is taken for granted, just like the expectation that they will work most of their lives and share any household or child-care duties with their "equal" male partner. Often girls are "more afraid of commitment than boys," leery of being "tied down," eager to explore their sexual possibilities. Many of them have no compunction about making the first move in a sexual encounter or taking risks. "I was really curious, and I really wanted to do it to see what it was like. I wasn’t in love with him at all."71 The main reason they become involved in sex is because it feels good. Some teenagers (girls and boys) interviewed were highly experimental and imaginative, as well as considerate of the other person, in their sexual play. Indeed, contrary to the idea that petting may be becoming a lost art, many of them seemed to have experienced important and extensive phases of petting, touching, and oral sex, intense and exploratory heterosexual experiences that involve mutual pleasure giving but not intercourse.72
The picture drawn here suggests a model of sexuality that is developmental, a process learned through social interactions rather than a force or a "drive" that is either released or contained. Such a developmental, process-oriented concept helps distinguish between the images of a dominant patriarchal-heterosexual culture (e. g., the "Lolita syndrome") and the everyday sexual practices of various teenage subcultures; between fantasy and reality. It is difficult to sort out the reality of the sexualized teenage girl from her ideological construction, since the two affect one another. But the empirical evidence suggests that the sexual experience of teenage women, even the very young, is more complex and more organic—rooted in a process of growth—than the label of promiscuity implies. The construction of "promiscuous teenage girls" as a social crisis is a projection of adults’ fears. It ignores not only the specific developmental character of teenage sex but the adeptness with which teenage subcultures often establish sexual rules and limits. Disrupting that process, either by forbidding sex or by forcing young teenagers into an "adult" organization of sexuality for which they are developmentally unprepared (e. g., "going steady" or marriage), may be futile or destructive. Sporadic risk taking or exploratory formats of sexual behavior may be endemic to early adolescence, which makes a postconceptive method of fertility control most appropriate. Not telling parents may be precisely the point of adolescent sexuality, insofar as that mode or phase of sexuality is precisely not a "family affair" but about breaking out of the family, defining one’s own territory of intimacy.73 While adolescents need to be helped to protect themselves from sexual abuse (sex that is coercive or imposed), venereal disease, and unwanted pregnancy, no adult has the right to "protect" them from the pleasurable sensations and explorations of their own bodies. Feminists and family planners share the view that to provide birth control, abortion services, and sex education—not to withhold them—is the sensible way to offer protection; although family planners are mainly interested in preventing pregnancy, while feminists are concerned with empowering young women, giving them more control over their lives.
Greater visibility and openness in the public discourse of sex, then, have undoubtedly entailed real changes in sexual practices among teenagers. "The actual act of sexual intercourse does not seem to be thought of as an act of rebellion anymore but rather as a normal part of life that comes either before marriage or with marriage. . . ."74 The most striking fact about these changes, and politically the most charged, is that they break down some of the entrenched cultural divisions between white women and women of color, between middle-class and working – class and poor women, that have long been rooted in sexual stereotypes. While all women have been affected by the availability of legal and funded abortion, it is the white middle-class teenage woman who has been visibly "sexualized," both in her image and in her experience (see Table 6-1).
As long as it was black or poor white women who were having sex or showing up on hospital wards with complications from illegal abortions, the events were perceived not as sexual but as the "natural" consequences of poverty and race. These events, in a white-dominated and bourgeois culture, become visible to that culture, hence definers of "changing (or deviating) sexual mores," only when they involve masses of white middle-class young women. This is a shift of some importance in the history of class-race-gender relations in capitalist patriarchal society. In the nineteenth century, sexual "excess," like procreative "excess," became a badge of "otherness" that middle – and upper-class white women used to dissociate themselves from immigrant working-class and black women. "Slut" or "whore" implied black or lower-class ethnic, whereas the white middle-class woman accused of "whoring around" might be identified with "niggers."75 The innocence and "purity" of his daughters was also a badge of the white male patriarch’s authority and control over his household, his place in the racist and class-divided social structure. The illusion of the "petting culture" was to maintain these race and class divisions in the realm of sexuality. In the pre-pill, pre-Roe era, the working-class girl was more vulnerable than both the working-class boy and the middle-class girl. (Middle-class white boys were always expected to have sex with prostitutes—most of whom were blacks or poor whites.) Not protected by the safety and facade of "respectability" that the petting culture offered the middle-class girl, if she chose to be (hetero)- sexual, she walked a thin line between "having a good time" or "having a few romances" before "settling down" and being stigmatized as "loose" or "common property." Alternatively, she might be hastened into, or take refuge in, a life-determining early marriage and series of pregnancies. Contraceptives (i. e., condoms) among unmarried high school students in the 1940s were apparently well known, easily accessible, and cheap— for boys; Hollingshead makes no mention of contraception in relation to girls.76 Meanwhile, the working-class girl tended to seek support through more open sex talk with girl friends of her class, thus risking the violation of secrecy codes and the ostracism of middle-class girls, who considered her "filthy-minded" and "dirty."77
Today, the availability of legal abortion and birth control services has created material conditions that have to some extent begun to equalize the sexual situations of young unmarried women across lines of class and race. On the one hand, for the working-class or poor young woman, access to safe, funded abortion avoids the stigma and burden of early pregnancy and so makes "respectability" and privacy in sexual relations a more universal good. On the other hand/ for the middle-class young woman, access to abortion diminishes the penalties of sexual intercourse and, bolstered by the prospect of education and economic self-sufficiency, makes the rewards of chastity less compelling. For both groups, the context of a changing sexual consciousness and practice is the expansion of educational and earning opportunities, which has affected many working-class and black as well as white middle-class women. Traditional culture’s tie between "sex" and "marriage" cannot withstand this cluster of changes.
In addition to birth control and abortion services, another change that may have contributed toward "democratizing" the teenage heterosexual culture has been a shift in the "geography of sex." Surveys of teenage women of all classes in the late 1970s found that nearly 80 percent of the heterosexual activity of these women occurred either in the girl’s home or her partner’s. Thus the family home, now empty and private during the day because of the rise in "working mothers," has become the central location of teenage heterosexual activity.78 Moreover, if the culture of matrifocal households has reinforced sexual autonomy and self-determination among many black women, then the rising proportion of such households among white families may have a similar impact: encouraging young white women—out of their experience—to develop sexual self-reliance. These are trends not lost on the New Right, who see them as further reason to blame women, and feminists, for teenage abortion and sexuality. Mothers, particularly white middle-class mothers, are no longer at home policing their daughters’ chastity, and fathers are out of the picture. What is significant is that, between 1967 and 1978, married women’s labor force participation rates increased across the whole spectrum of economic groups, but most sharply among middle – and upper-class wives.79 The home as a private space, more commodious than the automobile, has become another "leveler" of teenage sexual culture, no longer the guardian of young middle-class women’s virtue.
But once the older culture of sexual subdivision and secrecy, of "nice girls" and "bad girls," begins to break down, and the sexual practices of black and white, lower – and middle-class teenage girls are no longer obviously different, what happens to the terms of race and class division as they have traditionally been expressed? What happens to the authority position of the white male father? The availability of birth control and abortion to all teenage girls, the real changes in their sexual behavior as both cause and consequence of that, and the visibility of those sexual changes through white teenage pregnancy and abortion rates challenge not only patriarchy but the sexual bases of racism and class domination. They are thus triply dangerous, which is why they have become the object of such vociferous attack. In the following chapters, we look at how these dangers to traditional gender, sexual, race, and class relations have been refracted into the abortion question through right-wing ideology and politics; and how feminist ideology and politics respond.