Monday, November 20, 2006

Good Girls Don't....

I'm sputtering, I'm so mad.

President Bush has appointed Eric Keroack to lead HHS's Family Planning Program. The problem is that Dr. Keroack is against family planning. His most recent position was as medical director for A Woman's Concern, a network of crisis pregnancy centers which claims that "the crass commercialization and distribution of birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness." You can read their policy statement here: A Woman's Concern (.pdf).

This appointment makes about as much sense as putting me in charge of the Defense Department. You aren't going to get family planning programs from someone against family planning any more than you would get effective war planning from me. It's prima facia a bad move.

There are all kinds of arguments and studies demonstrating that Dr. Keroack's positions are simply not borne out by the facts. I'm about to make a slightly peculiar argument, that's not terribly well thought through, to boot. And it all stems from being on a Jane Austen bender. I just started re-reading Mansfield Park. In it, Austen contrasts three adult sisters, but let's just look at two of them for the moment.

One puts her family first, marries well, supports her other sisters and their children financially, and has four perfect children of her own. Except, of course, she's a laudanum addict and her children are far from perfect. The cost of this life is apparently quite high. The other sister marries from lust. She's sexually attracted to a poor man and can't be talked out of the unwise marriage. When we meet her she has heaven-only-knows how many children, is pregnant, and is living in squalor with an alcoholic husband. Lust doesn't lead anywhere good, either.

So, I started wondering what I would encourage my own daughter to do, under these circumstances. Absent the ability to control the size of a family and with no truly good choices, I might well do what upper-class women of the time did -convince young women that "good girls" don't like sex. It's a duty, a chore, and should be endured as rarely as possible. At least that way, she wouldn't have as many children -a high-risk proposition at the time- and would lead a slightly more secure and comfortable life. Culturally and individually, this attitude got us in so much trouble that it feels very odd to be defending it. But when you look at it from the "what does one mother say to one daughter" point of view, it's at least easy to understand how we went down that road. It might even be seen as a small (ultimately unhelpful, I concede) effort towards locating some power for women, which is to say, feminism.

My point, (the long way around) is that women have always known that uncontrolled fertility is a bad idea. It's not birth control that demeans women, for crying out loud; it's being treated as no more than a walking uterus that's demeaning. And you know what? It doesn't do much for children, either. When every pregnancy is met with a sense of impending doom, how can children be the delight and hope that they're meant to be? Much better that every child should be a wanted, sought-after, CRAVED child.

So, there's work to be done. If our daughters are going to have access to reasonable, responsible family planning services, we need to keep Dr. Keroack far away from our sexual decision making. Please consider writing to Michael Leavitt, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has the authority to block this appointment. You can do that through this link: NARAL sample letter.

And feel free to take apart my Jane Austen and sexual politics argument. It was the result of idle musings on a quiet Sunday. And quite possibly there was a glass of wine involved.


Lisa :-] said...

I heard about this appointment on NPR, and all I could think was "W strikes again..."

jill said...

2 thoughts:

1.) He appointed someone who doesn't believe in family planning to be head of family planning. Quelle surprise. He also appointed someone who doesn't believe in the UN as... US Ambassador to the UN.

2.) I think Jane might have your non-sex example right there in the third sister. An unmarried lady, who ends up a bitter, scolding harpy to those she can bully, and a sycophant to those whose generosity she depends on.

The thing is intended to re-play out in the next generation. I don't remember MP as well as I once did, but my belief is that Fanny, in choosing for love (as differentiated from lust) is the only one who really gets it right.

Andrea Rusin said...

Oh you're right about the third sister. I couldn't quite get her in the model, but that's it.

Wil Robinson said...

Wow - great point about "old" methods of birth control and the relationship to "upper-class women" believing sex was wrong, something to avoid, etc.

I'm not really surprised, I guess, about Bush's appointment...

...but on the other hand, did you say you wanted to be Secretary of Defense? Not a bad'd get my support.

Andrea Rusin said...

Wouldn't that be funny. I could take the Defense Department and turn it into the Social Justice department.

Ooohhhh.... don't tempt me.

Bob P said...

That glass of wine notwithstanding, your perspective here is nothing less than brilliant!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family, friends, and loved ones. At least cooking that turkey hasn't yet become an Administration-sponsored, Hannity-endorsed, Constitutionally-mandated, GOP-defined patriotic OBLIGATION for women. Yet.

Andrea Rusin said...

Wait...hang on.... I'm writing this down.... "nothing short of brilliant". You heard it here first, folks ;)

Both my kids are home and are currently holding their sides and wiping away tears they're laughing so hard. I wonder what THAT'S about???? ;)

Bob, you made my day!