The Abstinence Mystique

T hough True Love Revolution is an organization that has made much ado about standing for “objective truth,” its application of feminism to its argument for traditional marriage and abstinence is ethnocentric, misleading, and inaccurate.

In a new series of platform statements, TLR claims to support “true feminism,” which the club defines as recognition of “inherent physical, behavioral, emotional, and psychological differences between men and women.” Though TLR asserts that women nonetheless deserve equality under the law, the club bases its arguments for a traditional family on the complementary nature of gender roles and claims that a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman has been recognized throughout history and cultures as the ideal foundation for a family. Not only does this argument smack of essentialism and ignore empirical evidence that refutes the inferiority of same-sex parenting, but it is also made exclusively from a contemporary Western, Judeo-Christian perspective that ignores the presence of polygamy in many African and Muslim countries as well as its prevalence throughout history.

In response to backlash over their controversial new platform, TLR co-president Rachel L. Wagley ’11 e-mailed the Radcliffe Union of Students e-mail list and attended a club meeting to address what she considered to be misconceptions about the club. Misinterpreting the book by Ariel Levy, “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” as a work that argues against “societal dangers of second-wave feminism and sexual mania,” Wagley claims that feminism has gone too far and that women today have lost dignity as a consequence. Wagley should be commended for defending her viewpoints before a less than receptive audience, but her response betrays her ignorance of feminist history and suggests that TLR’s claim to true feminism is simply a misapplication of feminist principles.

Feminism is hardly the culprit behind the hypersexualization of young women. The goal of second-wave feminism was not—as Wagley suggests—to allow for the proliferation of sexually explicit media and self-exploitation à la “Girls Gone Wild.” In fact, most feminists, including Ariel Levy, would concur that the pressure to conform to a sexual script is a problem that ought to be addressed not by restricting sex, but by removing stigmas surrounding sexual behavior, which includes abstinence, promiscuity, and everything in between. Rather than blaming feminism as the cause of rampant sexuality, Wagley ought to examine the profit agenda behind the rise of pornography, a point already made frequently in critical feminist literature.

While I, too, recognize that so-called “raunch culture” is hardly liberating, I disagree that objectionable displays of sexuality can be addressed by curtailing sexual activity. TLR’s blanket rejection of premarital sex ignores that there can be room for empowered sexual expression, and, while there is nothing feminist about pornography made for the male gaze, I’m hesitant to write off any and all displays of female sexuality and any and all sexual activity without regard to the nuances of individual decision-making. That, after all, is the ultimate feminist crime.

TLR is nothing if not anti-feminist, because its very mission is based on restricting others’ decisions. Wagley assured RUS members that the club does not advocate legal restrictions on sexual behavior. In a recent blog entry, co-president Leo J. Keliher ’10 stated a similar point. But if TLR truly has no interest in political advocacy, then why would Wagley state in a question-and-answer session with the Institute of Politics that TLR was one of several “social policy initiatives” with which she was involved? Why would the club post a blog entry—later deleted—encouraging members to submit testimony against sex education in Massachusetts? At best, these inconsistencies indicate that the club has yet to determine its precise objectives. At worst, it is being deliberately disingenuous in claiming that TLR’s mission is without political agenda.

There’s nothing wrong with politicizing. Plenty of student organizations mobilize their members for advocacy purposes, but the difference between TLR and organizations like the Queer Students Alliance or the RUS is that the latter are transparent about their efforts. More importantly, they do not promote a one-size-fits-all lifestyle, nor do they presume to know what choices are the best choices for each individual to make. That itself is the very foundation of feminism: The belief that people have a right to live without being subject to gendered expectations. From what I’ve deduced from TLR’s platform, there seems to be little room for gender non-conformity and even less room for choice.

Lena Chen ’09-’10 is a sociology concentrator in Dudley House. She is a member of RUS and former board member of QSA.

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