Peggy Noonan, bad #history, and the #metoo movement

via Slate and Nursing Clio

Both blogs discuss Peggy Noonan’s November 23 Wall Street Journal column, in which Noonan claims the “sexual harassment racket” is a product of the sexual revolution and the growing availability of contraception and abortion:

“Once you separate sex from its seriousness, once you separate it from its life-changing, life-giving potential, men will come to see it as just another want, a desire like any other,” Noonan wrote . “Once they think that, then they’ll see sexual violations as less serious, less charged, less full of weight. They’ll be more able to rationalize. It’s only petty theft, a pack of chewing gum on the counter, and I took it.”

Numerous women’s historians, including Kathy Peiss, Ann Taves, Estelle Friedman, Danielle McGuire, Kathleen Brown, and Christine Stansell have disproven this claim, demonstrating the working women, especially slaves and free women of color, have faced sexual harassment and assault for centuries. What’s new is that women’s stories are finally being taken seriously and male predators are being punished for their actions.

Noonan’s ideas can be traced back to the 19th century social purity movement, led by women who wanted to end prostitution and the sexual exploitation of women. According to historian Linda Gordon, social purity advocates “were unequivocally opposed to contraception” because it removed the fears of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases that kept predatory men in line. However, Gordon also shows that social purity advocates were also photo feminist in the sense that they wanted to eliminate the sexual double standard, punish the customers of prostitution as well as prostitutes themselves, and raise the age of consent from age 10 to 18.

In other words, these reformers were combatting the sexual exploitation of women, which they saw as an offshoot of women’s economic and legal dependence on men. In an article entitled “Social Purity,” Susan B. Anthony wrote:

“Though women, as a class, are much less addicted to drunkenness and licentiousness than men, it is universally conceded that they are by far the greater sufferers from these evils. Compelled by their position in society to depend on men for subsistence, for food, clothes, shelter, for every chance even to earn a dollar, they have no way of escape from the besotted victims of appetite and passion with whom their lot is cast. . . The prosecutions on our courts for breach of promise, divorce, adultery, bigamy, seduction, rape; the newspaper reports every day of every year of scandals and outrages, of wife murders and paramour shooting, of abortions and infanticides, are perpetual reminders of men’s incapacity to cope successfully with this monster evil of society.”

Noonan and other foes of abortion have seized on these words and made Anthony into an anti-abortion heroine by taking Anthony’s words out of context.  To quote Anthony, by condemning abortion, and poo-pooing sexual harassment and other social injustices against women, today’s pro-life activists are “only mowing off the top of the noxious weed, while the root remains.”



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