The Ideological Message: Reprivatizing Sexuality and "Preserving the Family"
Organized opposition to abortion has never been a single-issue movement. The underlying message of the crusade against abortion—the message the New Right has embraced as its ideological centerpiece—is conveyed in the defensive response by Dr. J. C. Willke, president of the NRLC, to accusations about firebombings and the harassment of abortion clinics:
It is they who are doing violence to our beloved nation by their systematic undermining of the basic unit of our society, the family. They do violence by their so-called sex education which is encouraging sexual promiscuity in our children and leading to more and more abortions. They do violence to us by driving wedges, barriers, and suspicion between teenagers and parents. They do violence to marriage by helping to remove the right of a husband to protect the life of the child he has fathered in his wife’s womb.63
Abortion, Willke suggests, is the opening wedge in an avalanche of "moral" assaults on the traditional nuclear family, including sex education, teenage sexuality and autonomy, and the sexual and reproductive freedom of women. Preservation of the fetus is not the central issue here; rather, it is the patriarchal dominion of the husband over "his wife’s womb," the restoration of a patriarchal family form. As Ellen Willis noticed some years ago, "the nitty-gritty issue in the abortion debate is not life but sex."64 A set of unmistakably conservative sexual values lies at the core of antiabortion politics, dictating that "God did not ordain sex for fun and games."65
Over and over again in antiabortion and "profamily" literature, one is struck with a defiantly traditional middle-class morality regarding sexual behavior and an undisguised antipathy toward all forms of sexuality outside the marital, procreative sphere. Sociologist Donald Granberg’s study of a national sample of "prolife" activists found no correlation between opposition to abortion and "a more generalized prolife stance," as reflected in opposition to capital punishment, war, and military spending. "Prolifers" tend to favor these forms of death. On the other hand, Granberg found the greatest correlation to exist between opposition to abortion and "a conservative approach to matters of traditional morality," that is, disapproval of premarital sex, birth control for teenagers, sex education, and divorce.66 Sharon Thompson also found particular sexual biases when she attended a workshop on sex education at a local "right-to-life" convention:
In a sense, theirs is a movement championing the asexual in a post-Freudian era. The fetus is their purest symbol for that reason. Even babies are sexual, they now admit, but surely not the fetus. (If we could get a photo of a fetus masturbating, we might be able to short-circuit their whole movement.) They hate Planned Parenthood in large part because they perceive it as pro-sex. "Planned Parenthood even thinks old people should have sex!" one speaker called out at lunch, and the whole room exploded with laughter.67
More than anything else, the subject that excites "prolifers" is premarital sex among teenagers. Increasingly, antagonism to abortion stems less from concern for protecting the fetus than from a desire to prevent teenage sexuality. "Right-to-life" advocates assume a causal relationship between legalized abortion and a rise in sexual promiscuity and illegitimacy, particularly among teenagers. Not only abortion but also birth control and sex education programs are seen as giving official government sanction to "illicit" sex and therefore as interfering with parents’ control over the moral behavior and values of their children. Conversely, the way to eliminate premarital sexuality is to eliminate abortion, teenage contraceptive programs, and sex education. This has been the unenlightened opinion of Ronald Reagan for years, judging from remarks he made in 1973 while vetoing (for the third time) proposed legislation in California to allow teenagers to obtain contraceptives without parental consent:
Simply because sexual permissiveness may exist among certain young people does not mean the state should make it easier for them. . . . The state has no right to even tacitly seem to condone such behavior, particularly among children who, in too many instances, are not yet mature enough to understand the full implications of their actions.68
In a time demanding economic restraint and self-sacrifice, women who get abortions are the ultimate hedonists, the paradigm of "selfishness," and thus represent a defiance of both the patriarchal family and the patriotic state. Moreover, their action bears witness to the fact that sexuality may be exercised apart from procreation. And if apart from procreation, then—as the church has long understood—why not apart from marriage or from heterosexual relations? Thus, "lesbianism and abortion … are inextricably linked, not only as issues of self-determination for women, but. . . [as] powerful acts of female autonomy. . . that. . . defy the principal lessons of culture: heterosexual romance, marriage and motherhood."69 The idea of "control over one’s body" is not dangerous simply, or even mainly, in relation to fetal life; the ultimate objective of that idea is sexual freedom. Historically, the inability to control her pregnancies has been a major restriction on a woman’s sexual activity, in a way that is obviously not the same for men. It is important to note that "right-to-life" ideology is not simply antisex; the point is not wholesale repression but the rechanneling of sexuality into patriarchally legitimate forms, those that reinforce heterosexual marriage and motherhood. If a woman can control her pregnancies, there is no built-in sanction against her having sex when, how, and with whom she pleases—and this, for the "profamily"/"prolife" movement, is the heart of the matter: "free" sex.
The bastion of traditional values around sex, values that encumber sex with innumerable conditions of age, gender, and status, is and ever has been the patriarchal family. To ward off the threat to the family and consolidate its social and economic goals, the New Right developed its own program for a conservative family and social policy, contained in comprehensive form in its showcase legislation, the so-called Family
Protection Act.70 Introduced in both houses of Congress in 1979 and in a revised version in 1981, the FPA was initially drafted by the New Right’s Library Court legislative group. As a whole, it remains a guiding model, though many of its specifics have already become policy under the Reagan administration through legislative action, budgetary cutbacks, or executive fiat. Designed "to preserve the integrity of the American family, to foster and protect the viability of American family life. . . and to promote the virtues of the family," the FPA aims basically at removing federal jurisdiction over "parental rights" and the "rights" of churches and private schools. Specific provisions use the state’s taxing and spending powers to promote a public policy favoring not only marriage and childbirth but also heterosexuality and the role of the husband as household head. They are meant as disincentives to divorce and femaleheaded households. Thus, various tax benefits would be provided to married couples only if they file joint returns, a special tax deduction would be available to a married "individual" who sets up an individual retirement plan for (his) "non-earning spouse," and a $1,000 tax exemption would be given to married couples only for the birth or adoption of a child during the fiscal year ($3,000 if the child is born handicapped—an obvious disincentive to abortion). A similar exemption for the support at home of aged or handicapped relatives would also seem to be restricted to married couples (Secs. 203, 205, and 207). Moreover, the family to be "preserved" is clearly intended to be not only patriarchal but authoritarian. The act would abolish federal jurisdiction over child abuse and spouse abuse, exempting from the definition of child abuse the application of corporal punishment (i. e., spanking).
The major provisions of the bill, however, have to do with education. They would authorize parents to "review" (i. e., censor) any textbooks intended for use in public school classrooms and reauthorize sex segregation of "sports or other school-related activities" by rescinding federal authority to withhold funds to locales that prohibit such segregation on affirmative action grounds. Awareness of the power of ideas in shaping sexual politics is much in evidence here, as is the fear the New Right has of feminists, radicals, homosexuals, or anyone who questions traditional ideas about sexual divisions. This is sharply underlined in a blanket provision that would prohibit federal funding to any program that supports "educational materials. . . [that] tend to denigrate, diminish, or deny the role differences between the sexes as it [sic] has been historically understood in the United States," a clear reference to women’s studies programs and courses (Sec. 301). More straightforward still is the provision that bars federal funds for "homosexual advocacy," that is, for the support of "any public or private individual or entity," not only schools, which presents "that male or female homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle" (Sec. 108). This homophobic provision, though revised in the later version to exclude discrimination against homosexuals in regard to welfare, social security, veterans, or student benefits, nonetheless lays bare that the core of the FPA is not so much the maintenance of families but the repression of sexual deviance and the hegemony of a patriarchal form of family.
These measures supplement the vigorous national campaign initiated by Falwell’s Moral Majority to censor television programming and school books; for example, the feminist bestseller Our Bodies, Ourselves—a comprehensive manual on birth control, abortion, sexuality, pregnancy, and gynecological health—has been the target of a witch-hunt.71 Similarly, the New Right has reinforced its legislative campaign against feminism in the schools with "direct action" tactics at the local level to harass, defund, and discredit campus women’s centers and women’s studies programs around the country.72 The emphasis on "materials" is tactical and deliberate. Although radicals and feminists justifiably fear a recurrence of McCarthyism, at this stage the aim is primarily to purge, not teachers, but children’s minds of any ideas that are critical of racism, sexism, homophobia, or class divisions. Hence the stress on supporting, through government subsidies, parochial and private schools and even "parental" or "Christian" schools. While federal support for parents who teach their children at home was dropped from the revised version of the FPA, it remains a live part of the "profamily" agenda. At a recent meeting of the American Family Forum, the largest national gathering of New Right "profamily" forces, the idea that parents (i. e., mothers) should keep their children at home until the age of eight or ten, teaching them out of sanitized 1950s textbooks—and, of course, staying home with them, where they belong—was warmly received.73
In addition to control over the schools for right-wing ideological purposes, the FPA reasserts parental control over education in the service of middle-class economic interests. It provides special tax deductions (a form of tuition tax credits) for parents who contribute up to $2,500 per year per child to an "education savings account" (Sec. 201), a measure, along with one regarding "tax exempt schools," aimed at granting federal support to private and parochial education. These provisions are not merely class biased; they are also fundamentally racist. Their aim is to support schools whose reason for being is racial segregation and religious sectarianism. The bill would bar the federal government from regulating not only religious schools but "church-operated child care centers, orphanages, foster homes, social action training schools, juvenile delinquency or drug abuse treatment centers," mainly for the purpose of immunizing them from federal affirmative action regulations (Sec. 501). It would also prohibit the use of Legal Services funds for litigation involving busing or other programs for "the desegregation of any elementary or secondary school or school system" (Sec. 305).
All these ends—tuition tax credits, racial segregation, reinforcing religion in schools, banning textbooks that question traditional patriarchal and sexual values, and preventing "homosexual advocacy"—are interrelated. Parents among fundamentalist and Catholic conservative constituencies to whom the New Right appeals want control over local schools for reasons that are in part religious, in part class-based, in part racist, in part sexist and homophobic, and in part expressive of their fears, as parents, of loss of control over their children. Overall it may be that, in a time of economic and political insecurity, the desire to control one’s children (since other aspects of life seem out of control) becomes a conduit for other fears. In this context, invocations of "the family" communicate complex meanings and moral sanctions. "The family" provides a new moral thrust, a new legitimation for older right-wing aims such as racial segregation and prayer in the public schools, which, since the 1960s and the civil rights movement, are no longer so easily justified. The sexual component of this ideological thrust cannot be overstressed. For the "freedom" that white parents want is clearly the "freedom" to keep their children away from black children; their fears of "racial mix" are in no small part bound up with sexual-racial stereotypes and the fear of their children’s sexuality.74
The idea of protection runs heavily throughout the "profamily" literature—protection not only of fetuses and minors but of adult women, who are meant to remain dependent on husbands. This idea was used continually to discredit the ERA, which Phyllis Schlafly claimed would "strike at the heart of women’s family support rights."75 Just as the Reagan administration promises to protect corporations from the "shackles" of regulation, and to protect fascist regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala from popular rebellion, so the New Right seeks to protect the traditional patriarchal family. The fetus "in his wife’s womb" becomes a symbol of the besieged sanctuary of patriarchy. "Protection" encounters contradictions, however, in regard to domestic violence: how to protect women from the physical dangers that exist within the family? One of the major legislative campaigns of the New Right has been directed against the Domestic Violence Prevention and Services Bill, which would expand federally funded programs to assist domestic violence victims.76 Behind the New Right’s opposition to the bill is a desire to shut down a national network of battered women’s centers, often run by feminists, which encourage battered women to leave home. While acknowledging that wife battering exists, the "profamily" alternative is to return women to the authority of their spouses, offer them counseling, and remove domestic violence services from the public back to the private (preferably church – sponsored) domain. In a related attempt to bolster the patriarchal family structure, the FPA restricts federal legal assistance or Legal Services funds for litigation in which clients, who are nearly always poor women, are seeking to obtain an abortion or a divorce; or in which homosexuals, male or female, are seeking the adjudication of their rights (Sec. 106). It also requires that no family planning agency "may receive federal funds unless prior to providing a contraceptive device or abortion service (including abortion counseling) to an unmarried minor, the parents or guardian of such minor are notified" (Sec. 102).
The Family Protection Act must be read, not as a legislative instrument likely to be adopted as it stands, but as a conservative political program to reverse the radical family and sexual politics of the 1960s and 1970s. Its elements constitute a nearly point-by-point response to the piecemeal but potentially radical program for school desegregation, women’s studies, equality within families, public support for alternative family forms, gay and lesbian rights, and services for battered women, which grew out of the civil rights, women’s, and gay liberation movements over the past twenty years. The practical social and political impact of this New Right agenda is to wipe out many existing feminist and gay rights programs that depend heavily on federal funds: to reconstitute the family and private agencies, such as the church, as the main institutions to which women and teenagers, especially if they are poor, must look for support.
Although the FPA remains on a back burner in Congress, many of its key provisions have, bit by bit, become public policy under the Reagan administration. It became apparent during 1982 that some of President Reagan’s advisers regarded the "social program" of the New Right—including an antiabortion amendment—as a politically losing proposition in Congress in the midst of an embattled economy.77 But that political judgment, characteristically opportunistic, did not mean any fundamental lack of sympathy for right-wing positions on abortion, sexuality, the family, or education. In fact, the stalemate in Congress around some of the right’s major issues (abortion, teenage pregnancy and sexuality, busing, tuition tax credits) has simply fortified them, with ample support from the executive branch, in utilizing other routes—administrative orders, judicial rulings, heavily funded media and propaganda campaigns—to achieve the same ends more circumspectly.
The requirement of parental notification prior to delivering contraceptive services or devices to unmarried teenagers emerged in an executive regulation issued, amid tremendous public protest, by the Department of Health and Human Services. Through a combination of legislative riders and Reagan’s cutbacks in the social welfare budget, federal legal services to homosexuals were curtailed and the Legal Services Corporation budget was decimated.78 Conservative-minded courts succumbed to right – wing pressure, rescinding court-imposed orders to enforce busing to desegregate the schools79 and endorsing, with qualifications, state and local requirements of parental consent or notification for teenage abortions (see Chapter 8). In regard to abortion, on one level the New Right’s legislative assault floundered badly, leaving it hopelessly divided and with less support for any antiabortion amendment in 1982 than it had in 1980. At the same time, the Reagan administration engaged in a strategy of bureaucratic guerrilla warfare that systematically harassed and intimidated abortion providers and restricted access, particularly for young unmarried women, to abortion and birth control services.
Rather than annihilate abortion rights through a constitutional amendment, this strategy whittles them away. In the latest foray, the Department of Health and Human Services issued "guidelines"—unlike regulations, these require no public hearings or public response prior to formalization—imposing the complete segregation of abortion facilities and services from other family planning activities in federally funded clinics and hospitals. This meant that "family planning clinics could not provide any assistance to women seeking abortions," causing the fragmentation rather than integration of care and the duplication of offices, equipment, and personnel in a period of stringent budgetary restraints.80 It was an act of administrative fiat whose intent is to circumvent the legislative process and wield the threat of denial of funding so that clinics and hospitals will suspend abortion services. In this way, the New Right and the state may intend less to recriminalize abortion than to delegitimize it by rendering it inaccessible and marginal once again.
Reagan administration officials were from the outset open about their intention to curtail such services and that their reasons had to do with sexual politics. Reagan appointed staunch conservatives and "prolife" political figures to all the senior positions in the Department of Health and Human Services related to family planning, reproductive health, and adolescent sexuality. When Marjorie Mecklenberg, the administration’s head of the Office of Family Planning and deputy of Population Affairs, was asked how she, an ardent "right-to-lifer," would handle the problem of adolescent pregnancy, she responded that teenagers should "postpone sexual involvement." Similarly, Richard Schweiker, secretary of Health and Human Services, remarked publicly that the "federal government should not be in the sex education business."81 This federal policy to discourage teenage sex culminated in the enactment of federal regulations under Title X of the Public Health Services Act requiring federally funded family planning projects to notify both parents or the legal guardian of all minors within ten days after issuing prescription birth control devices or pills.82
It is noteworthy that the "squeal rule" focuses on the "health risks" of contraceptives as ground for "protection" of young women and for parental intervention. Feminists are again seeing their protests about the health hazards of oral contraceptives lifted out of context and used against women’s autonomy. The goal of "protecting" young women is not aimed at health hazards, however, but at sexual activity. Targeting prescription methods not only provides a pretext thought acceptable to liberals but, and this is more important, restricts the impact of the regulations to females. As with parental consent and notification requirements for abortion, reporting to both parents is a system of surveillance meant to mitigate the authority of health and family planning professionals, to enhance that of fathers, and to intimidate heterosexually active young women. Right-wing Senators Orrin Hatch and Jeremiah Denton expressed the sexual ideology of the rule’s sponsors when they replied to the liberal New York Times:
And what of chastity? Personally, we still think it should be considered, even in 1981. The most effective oral contraceptive yet devised is the word "no." It costs nothing, has no harmful side effects and is 100% effective.83
The theme of protecting children has also been applied in the movement’s virulent, heavily financed campaign against homosexuals and lesbians.84 On the pretext that male homosexuals and lesbians are child molesters, New Right offensives have sought, with some success, to defeat gay rights, ordinances in cities around the country, to deny federally funded legal services to homosexuals, and to bar homosexuals from teaching in the public schools (e. g., in the defeated Briggs Amendment campaign in California).85 They have revived the ideology, abandoned even by the American Psychiatric Association, that homosexuality is "pathological" and "perverse." A longer-range goal is to prohibit the employment of homosexuals not only in education but in any "public sector" or "high visibility public jobs,"86 as well as to prohibit federal funding of any organization that "suggests" that homosexuality "can be an acceptable lifestyle" (FPA). A section of the original FPA, deleted from the amended version and so blatantly unconstitutional that probably even the right’s congressional agents were loathe to defend it, would have added to the 1964 Civil Rights Act the following:
. . . the term "unlawful employment practice" shall not be deemed to include any action or measure taken by an employer, labor organization, joint labor-management committee, or employment agency with respect to an individual who is a homosexual or proclaims homosexual tendencies. No agency, bureau, commission, or other instrumentality of the Government of the United States shall seek to enforce nondiscrimination with respect to individuals who are homosexuals or who proclaim homosexual tendencies.
The ideas behind the New Right’s campaign against homosexuals reveal the political values that motivate the "profamily" movement, including the movement against abortion. They suggest that while "prolifers" appear hostile to sexuality as such, it is really the social aspects of traditional gender identities, particularly the position of male paternal and heterosexual authority, that they are determined to protect. Male homosexuality is even more dangerous than female in the "profamily" view because it signals a breakdown of "’masculinity/’ or what one neoconservative calls the "male spirit" or "the male principle."87 What is at stake in the New Right campaign against homosexuality is the idea of what it means to be a "man" or a "woman," as well as the structure and meaning of the traditional family. These two concepts are clearly related, for "masculinity" has been defined historically through the structure of the family and the dominant position of the father within it. Paul Weyrich expresses an awareness of this reality when he decries feminists for seeking "the restructuring of the traditional family and particularly. . . the downgrading of the male or father role in the traditional family."
Taking feminist ideas more seriously than many liberals do, the doctrinal leaders of the New Right relate women’s sexuality to their place in society—only they reverse the feminist vision. Connie Marshner, another prime mover of the "profamily" movement, assures women that all they need is "to know ‘that somebody will have the authority and make the decision, and that your job is to be happy with it.’ "88 This is exactly what Schlafly and her anti-ERA forces have been promoting since 1973: that it is women’s "right" to be dependent, cared for, subordinate to men, and defined by marriage and motherhood. Anti-ERA and "pro – family" ideology assumes that it is destructive of the family for married women to work outside the home. Pat Robertson, a New Right fundamentalist preacher and head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, decries the calamity of working mothers and offers the "Christian solution":
Deficit spending, from the 1940s through the 1970s, put an intolerable burden on the American people. … So it became necessary for women to enter the work force not because they wanted to but because they had to. Twenty-five million children under school age are dumped into day care centers by their mothers. Teenagers come home and there’s no one there, so they think, "How about a little marijuana and a little sex." When mother gets home she’s tired, and squabbles with her husband. They get divorced, the children lose their role models, there is more rebellion in the schools and homosexuality, and the children of divorce get divorced themselves.
The solution? … A Christian marriage. . . . Being a housewife is a noble profession. My father was a Senator, but my mother stayed home to tell me about Jesus Christ.89
Here, in a mythical rewriting of the recent past, are coupled the twin evils of Keynesianism (the liberal state) and working mothers, and their "good" counterparts, supply-side economics and the pious mother at home. Her absence, not the economy, is blamed for every demon that plagues the family: teenage pregnancy, drugs, homosexuality, divorce, and "rebellion in the schools." At bottom, "prolife/7"profamily" ideology represents the urge to restore the bourgeois values of motherhood as they have been propagated since the late eighteenth century. One could speculate at length on the deeper cultural and psychological roots of the "motherhood" backlash, yet it obviously touches something very profound: in men, an ingrained expectation of being taken care of, which feminism seems to threaten; and in women, an ingrained vulnerability to guilt, which antifeminism evokes.
The men of the "profamily" movement, mainly upper-middle-class professionals,90 are not immune to the sense of personal loss and threat provoked by feminism and recent changes in the family and women’s work. Restoring the virginal purity of unmarried daughters is an assertion of bourgeois paternalism and an effort to avert the baneful influence of feminism on a younger generation of women. Weyrich again captures the essence of the middle-class patriarchal ressentiment: "The father’s word has to prevail."91 With this unambiguous call to arms, he speaks not only as a New Right general but also as a husband and father. And he speaks, too, as a leading patriarch in his church, aware of the Sonia Johnsons and the Sister Theresa Kanes and the other powerful religious women who would turn traditional church governance upside down.
We should not underestimate the directive impact of conservative churches on the sexual values and practices of young people. A study of "premarital pregnancy in America" confirms that, historically, "restrictive sexual attitudes" and "lower levels of premarital sexual activity" have been associated with active "religious involvement" (i. e., church attendance). But this association is not automatic or one-way: "Religion can be said to have an impact on the overall incidence of premarital sex only when it is an encompassing and controlling force in the lives of the young and not merely an option."92 Certainly it is a goal of the Moral Majority and other New Right organizations to establish "Rible-believing" churches as an "encompassing and controlling force" over young unmarried people, particularly over their sexual values and habits. Smith and Hindus note that the "age-stratified institutions" that help construct a separate teenage culture (e. g., nonsectarian high schools, rock music, television, and family planning and VD clinics that cater to the needs of teenagers) weaken the power of "modern parents… to be oppressive in an effective way." Teenagers today are "psychologically enmeshed in but not controlled by their families of orientation."93 Aided by "Christian academies," censorship campaigns against feminist writings and programs, and government restriction of teenage girls’ access to abortion and birth control, the leaders of right-wing sects like the Moral Majority are attempting to break down the "age-stratified" culture, especially the teen-sex culture, to reestablish direct lines of control through reabsorption of young people into the family and the church.
In the Catholic church, one could argue that feminism, within the church and outside it, explains the singlemindedness and fury with which the church hierarchy has engaged in the current crusade against birth control and abortion. The hierarchy and the pope have expressed strong concern about feminist and Marxist stirrings within the church’s ranks and the need to impose "discipline" and patriarchal authority in its own house. This was made clear in the pope’s visit to the United States in 1979 and his outspoken endorsement then, and during a recent Synod of Bishops, of the most conservative views on women, birth control, sexuality, and marriage—even in the face of widespread lay nonconformism and public appeals by nuns for a more modern approach.94 Feminism represents a threat of insubordination and depopulation. Not only have Catholic birthrates (and parochial school enrollments) gone down as much as those of other groups, but American Catholics apparently approve of and practice abortion in nearly as large numbers as do other groups.95
The "prolife"/"profamily" campaign cannot be written off as religious fanaticism or mere opportunism. It has achieved a popular following and a measure of national political power because it is a response to real social conditions and deep-lying personal fears. New Right organizers understand all too well that the main threats to maintaining a traditional family structure in which men dominate women and children and women seek their identity in motherhood are women’s economic independence from husbands, teenagers’ cultural independence from parents, and the existence of a strong feminist movement. The massive rise in women’s labor force participation and, on a smaller but still important scale, the existence of feminist alternatives outside the home (e. g., battered women’s shelters, lesbian communities, "returning women’s" programs in colleges, and feminist health networks) create the possibility for women to function outside traditional married life. For married women too, these possibilities have changed how they think about marital relations and motherhood and whether to remain married (most of them do). Far more than an opportunistic appeal to the "irrational," the New Right represents a conservative response to these broad and changing social conditions. Moreover, the popular phobias it attempts to harness and channel toward reactionary ends are real, if misplaced. Above all, the fear that homosexuality and feminism will erase the "differences" between women and men, make everyone "the same," while inflamed by the New Right, is not of their making but is embedded deeper in the culture than feminists sometimes want to believe.
It is not only those conditions and fears that have given the New Right its leverage. It is also the failure of the left and feminist movements to develop an alternative vision that provides a sense of orientation in dealing with the personal insecurity and disruption brought about by recent changes in the family and sexual norms. The disjunction in relations between parents and teenagers painfully illustrates this lack of vision. For the concerns of parents about their children getting pregnant, having abortions, abusing drugs, and being encouraged toward "sexual freedom" without any social context of sexual and reproductive responsibility are rational. Neither the left nor the women’s movement has offered a model for a better, more socially responsible way for teenagers to live. The "prolife" movement’s critique of a certain "hedonism," the cult of subjective experience and "doing whatever feels good," with no sense of values outside the self, is in part a response to the moral failure of contemporary capitalist culture.
In addressing these cultural dislocations, the New Right answers with the reassurance of moral absolutism: To deal with the problems of abortion, teenage sexuality, and conflicts in female-male relations, simply abolish them. There are no decisions to make, no hard choices, no ambiguities. But this is not morality because it absolves human beings, especially those lacking patriarchal authority, of moral agency and plays on people’s weakness and insecurity. Moreover, it puts its own followers (e. g., the activist women of the "right-to-life" and "profamily" movement) in a terrible dilemma because the meaning of political activism, to which they are being called, is to think, to act, and to be responsible. Indeed, the most stinging contradiction embodied in the "prolife" movement may be that confronting its large numbers of female rank and file, most of them white, middle-class, and middle-aged. On the one hand, these are the very women for whom the loss of a protective conjugal family structure and motherhood as the core of woman’s fulfillment is a menacing specter. On the other hand, what can it mean to be active as a woman in a political movement, or a church, that stands for women’s passivity and subordination? How will the women of the New Right confront this dilemma?
Anita Bryant, for three years national symbol and leader of the campaign against gay rights and a devout fundamentalist, may be the harbinger of a gathering storm. Finding herself divorced, jobless, and denounced by the male-dominated church that has made millions of dollars off her name, by 1981 Bryant claimed to "better understand the gays’ and feminists’ anger and frustration." She sees "a male chauvinist attitude" in "the kind of sermon [she] always heard" growing up in the Bible belt—"wife submit to your husband even if he’s wrong"—and thinks that "her church has not addressed itself to women’s problems":
Fundamentalists have their head in the sands. The church is sick right now and I have to say Гш even part of that sickness. I often have had to stay in pastors’ homes and their wives talk to me. Some pastors are so hard-nosed about submission and insensitive to their wives’ needs that they don’t recognize the frustration—even hatred—within their own households.96
We need more insight into the potential "cracks in the high walls" around the evangelical churches and their women, Carol Virginia Pohli reminds feminists. She observes that in the process of engaging its congregants in politically controversial discourse, debate, and activism, New Right churches introduce a contradiction into their internal belief system and power structure; they thereby unwittingly expose their members to conflicting ideas and values and thus open up "potentially subversive" windows of change within their ranks.97 Only by ignoring the forces of radical change and creating a hermetically sealed world of separate institutions, teachings, schools, culture, and services can the New Right "protect" their women from feminism. Engaging them with the "enemy" has a dangerous side. This becomes even truer to the extent that evangelical women too are the victims of sexual abuse, job discrimination, and chauvinist treatment.
Material and ideological contradictions may undo the "prolife" movement in the long run. The New Right’s rejection of the now dominant ideology of the "working mother," their determination to bring women back into the home, represents a basic misunderstanding of current economic realities, including the long-range interests of the capitalist class as a whole, which continues to rely heavily on a (sex-segregated) female labor force. Corporations are unlikely to fill low-paying, part-time, unprotected, high-turnover jobs in the clerical and service sectors—"women’s work"—with white male workers; yet these are still the growing areas of the economy. More important, the vast majority of families will continue to depend on at least two wage earners. While the "profamily" movement is reacting to social changes that have caused disruptions in people’s lives, its "solutions" are relevant to only a tiny privileged minority. The family model the New Right would like to restore—in fact, to make mandatory—has become practically extinct in America. The three – fourths of all married women who currently work outside the home, nearly half of them with preschool children, do so primarily for the same reasons that men work: to enable themselves and their families to live decently, and in the realization that being an adult member of a capitalist society involves having a job and earning money. Meanwhile, the numbers of female-headed households, unmarried cohabiting couples, homosexual partners, and single individuals not living in "families" continue to increase. Are all these people "immoral" or "un-American"? What will the Moral Majority do about the real majority?
Some of these contradictions may have begun to surface by the 1982 congressional elections. Those elections saw not a single New Right candidate win in any state, while the conservative Republican base in the House was eroded by the loss of twenty-six seats to candidates considered liberal on every major economic and social issue, including abortion.98 Political observers have speculated a good deal about the degree to which these results can be attributed to a growing "gender gap"—the greater tendency for women to vote for Democrats and liberals and to support government spending for social welfare, nuclear disarmament, and a noninterventionist foreign policy. Even White House advisers have expressed concern that the disproportionate impact of budget cuts on women, particularly those who are single and divorced, has led to their growing antagonism toward the Republican administration.99 Will this shifting political consciousness reject conservative "social" (family-sexual) policies as it has rejected conservative economic and fiscal policies? Is the disarray besetting New Right antiabortion tactics a sign of their eroding popular base? If women are disassociating themselves from the militaristic, antisocial values of Reaganomics, they may also be disassociating themselves from the idea that the male, or the male-dominated state, has a right of paternity to intervene in a woman’s womb.
Finally, neither the practice of abortion and birth control nor the expression of sexual desire has ever been successfully stamped out by repressive religious or legal codes. As Jill Stephenson comments with regard to the failure of Nazi "motherhood" ideology to raise the German birthrate:
The long history of birth control in Germany, with widespread resort to abortion if contraception had been unavailable, or had failed, could not be eliminated from popular consciousness by a few laws and even a mass of propaganda. . . . Repression could only drive these practices underground, where popular demand ensured that, somehow, they survived.100
In the United States in the 1980s, social needs and popular consciousness will also assure the survival of these practices. But whether survival will transform into political struggle will depend on the existence and strength of an organized popular movement.