What a Week!


Oh, 2013 you’re not going to go quietly, are you? So much happened this week. Consider:

The Advocate named Pope Francis its person of the year. Point here, counterpoint here.

pajama boy

The Obama administration launched a series of ads promoting the ACA, including the one above, dubbed “Pajama Boy,” which caused cultural conservatives to go bananas, pointing to it as another sign of our contemporary manhood crisis.

A judge in Utah ruled a law unconstitutional for forbidding a married couple from cohabiting with another adult. It was presented as a legalization of polygamy which caused cultural conservatives to go “I told you so,” since they had always said that the logic of gay marriage leads inexorably to multiple marriages.

Then, another federal judge in Utah invalidated that state’s anti-gay marriage amendment, basing his argument on the inexorable logic of Antonin Scalia. Zing!

(But, beyond Zing!, congratulations, Utah! And New Mexico!)

And Ross Douthat wrote a column trumpeting a study that, he said, suggested that men who have daughters tend to become more culturally conservative. Building on his reading of Adelle Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Douthat said that looking out for women’s well-being leads naturally to more traditional sexual morals.

Oh, yeah: Duck Dynasty, too.

This week had everything for me: explosive debates about masculinity, literature, marriage, Christianity, parenthood, kids today, feminism, the South…I want to write about it all, but I’m on my way to a Christmas party and I have posts planned for the next few days on other topics. So, for the next twenty minutes, I will write about… [spinning the Wheel of Topics]…

Ross Douthat’s column!

See, here’s the thing about Douthat. After his column was posted and he got pushback, including this interview with Waldman, the author on whom he based his analysis, he got a bit snippy on twitter:

And, after he wrote a couple of columns in response (here and here):

In his later columns, he tried to reassure his critics that they were getting him all wrong, and he pointed everyone to this reaction by Conor Friedersdorf. I also recommend Friedersdorf’s commentary, because it echoes the reasons Douthat confuses me. In Friedersdorf’s words, “How would bringing about a more conservative sexual culture work?”

Or actually, for starters, what does Douthat mean by “social conservatism”?

Is Douthat just saying that we should recognize that sex is powerful, and therefore has the power to hurt, and that therefore there’s risk in it, and maybe it’s not a good idea to get into a sexual relationship with someone who has different relationship goals than you?

Is he saying that social conservatism means knowing that sleeping with jerks can be bad?

Is he saying, as Friedersdorf suggests, that we should de-stigmatize waiting for sex, and allow for more genuine individual choice in sexual situations?*

Because if that’s what he means, then I’m a social conservative. Waldman is a social conservative. Heck, Lena Dunham is a social conservative (what else is her show about?). Even most of the feminists arguing with Douthat are social conservatives.

But that’s not where Douthat started. Douthat started by dancing a jig about a survey that said women with daughters are more likely to vote Republican. He attached his concept of social conservatism to a specific party with specific policies that, nowadays, often seem specifically designed to enshrine an ideal of sexual purity by ensuring that sex has consequences.

If that’s not what he meant, if he wasn’t calling for those types of policies, then his critics did him a favor by forcing him to clarify his stance—a process that seems to be ongoing. Douthat ought to be thanking them, not getting all snippy.

*This, by the way, is exactly what Waldman says, and Douthat calls it an “intellectual abdication.” Which brings up another point: I love how Douthat is over the moon for Waldman’s penetrating sociological analysis until she tells him he’s wrong about her book—then it’s all, “Well, see, what Waldman doesn’t understand…”

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