Porn hysteria and attacks on Planned Parenthood prove the religious right's just getting bolder

Between slamming Planned Parenthood and caling porn a "public health hazard," the Christian right is not going away

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published February 3, 2016 3:39PM (EST)

 (AP/Stacie Freudenberg)
(AP/Stacie Freudenberg)

The ongoing popularity of Donald Trump, who is managing to woo even some evangelical voters despite his tabloid-friendly sexual history, has caused folks in some quarters to suggest this represents the decline of the religious right. Ted Cruz's victory in Iowa, however, demonstrates that those proclamations were, at best, premature. If anything, the perception of declining influence is causing the fundamentalist set to lash out, embracing even more extreme and even apocalyptic rhetoric, as evidenced by Cruz's cozy relationship with some of the most radical evangelical leaders in the business.

They're not going away. If anything, the religious right has just become bolder about pushing its message that their ideals of chastity are the only right way to live and that the rest of us need to get on board....or else.

Take, for instance, this story out of Utah that would be funny if it weren't just so pathetic. Utah state senator Todd Weiler introduced a bill last week that would declare that porn is a "public health hazard." The document is a beautiful distillation of the contradictions of modern fundamentalism, which has taken to using words and ideas they've picked up from feminism to create a "pro-woman" cover for anti-sex attitudes. The claims to care for women, however, are inevitably revealed to be a ruse to hide what is essentially a hostile attitude, rooted in deeply misogynist ideas about how women have no value outside of their reproductive functions.

"WHEREAS, because pornography treats women as objects and commodities for the viewer’s use, it teaches girls they are to be used and teaches boys to be users," the bill reads, having borrowed feminist ideas about objectification but misusing them. (While many feminists object to porn, this notion that sex outside of marriage is always about a man "using" a woman like an object has never actually been a feminist idea.)

"Whereas pornography use is linked to lessening desire in young men to marry, dissatisfaction in marriage, and infidelity," he continues, revealing his true attitude about women. Which apparently is that women have so little value to men outside of our bodies that men have no use for marriage so long as they are other opportunities, like porn, to see what ladies look like with their clothes off.

Why should a woman want to be married, anyway, if it's only to a man who thinks you're a poor substitute for the robust masturbation schedule he was denied by anti-porn legislation? Weiler likely hasn't thought about this question for a second. For all his purported concern about treating women as objects, he doesn't seem to have given a moment's thought to the possibility that women have internal lives, lives that include a desire to have a real sexual connection, instead of being used as a sex toy that is only resorted to because the preferred porn has been taken away.

Weiler is hardly the only conservative pushing this notion that men will only marry under force. (Which is always coupled, of course, with the notion that women should want these coerced relationships anyway, because getting a ring is our only purpose in life.) In fact, this view of gender relations is the driving force behind the latest round of litigation over legal abortion, which is going all the way to the Supreme Court next month, when Texas's anti-abortion law, which defenders claim is there to protect women from abortion, will be argued in court.

During last month's March for Life, which is scheduled to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade every year, there was a heavy emphasis on the argument that women need legal abortion taken away for their own good, on the grounds that marriage offers dry up if consequence-free sex is too easy for men to get. The narrative offered by anti-choicers these days is that no woman really wants an abortion, but that it's foisted on us by caddish men and their partners in the wedding-denial business, Planned Parenthood.

"We know that abortion is not a means of female empowerment," Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life and Rep. Diane Black wrote in an op-ed tied to the march, "it is a heartbreaking choice that ends one life and can damage another—and that is the true war on women."

Yoest echoed this rhetoric at the March for Life, calling pro-choicers "the true misogynists in our society."

In these public statements, anti-choicers are vague about what "damage" they think is done by choosing abortion, but it isn't hard to piece together the narrative: That the "true" purpose of sexuality is baby-making, that having sex for any other reason degrades women, and that women who get abortions are either deluded or coerced.

The same reasoning was trotted out by Claire Swinarski, who tried (and failed) to argue that there's such a thing as "pro-life" feminism in Vox. Responding to Gloria Steinem, who is thankful that her abortion allowed her to live life the way she wanted, Swinarski argues that Steinem "still could have done what she wanted to do with her life if she'd had her baby. Mothers do that, every day."

"Hillary Clinton's a mother, and she's running for president. Adele's a mother, and she released the biggest No. 1 single in three years in 2015," she continues.

The implication of this argument is not subtle: That motherhood is what women are for, and that should be your first mission in life, and everything else should be arranged around that. Obviously, Steinem knows that some women choose both kids and careers. But she didn't want that. But what women want is irrelevant. Our mission in life is to use sexual access as blackmail to extract a wedding ring from a reluctant man and to make lots of babies. If you think you want something else, you must be deluded, because this is what women are for. Careers and stuff are nice, but clearly secondary to your God-given purpose in life, which is weddings and babies.

It would be nice if these folks were losing their power over the Republican Party. But with the prospect of a female president looming in the background, the likelihood is that these arguments, which are deeply anti-woman even as they pretend otherwise, are just going to become more urgent for conservatives. Trump's glib but shallow misogyny is fun for the right, but the deeper, Jesus-justified misogyny, which has an elaborate mythology about how women exist primarily to be wives and mothers and that feminism is a betrayal of that, will have a lot of power in the coming months.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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