“Even if I could be Queen to the Emperor and have all the power and riches in the world, I’d rather be your whore.” Heloise
I haven't held back in my criticisms of Amanda Marcotte in the past so it gives me some pleasure to be able to praise her now. She recently took aim at,
... a widespread conservative belief that men cannot really love women and that women find sex degrading and repulsive (but desperately want men to marry us). The idea is that men will try to get away with having as much sex as they can without committing to a woman, and women have to try to game the system by withholding sex to extract a promise of a loveless but legal marriage. Romantic, no?
Reproductive rights screw the whole system up, according to this theory, because men know a woman doesn’t have to be pregnant and therefore cannot be guilt-tripped into a shotgun marriage. Women, always assumed to be too stupid to act in their own interest, are therefore assumed to be having all this sex they don’t like, foolishly thinking it will get them married. But, as the conservative theory goes, men don’t marry unless they have to, so women are left bereft, with no leverage to extract wedding rings from the unwilling.
And she's right. This view is widespread among social conservatives. (Not just them, of course; Sex and the City, to pick just one example, while acknowledging that women really do love sex, was built entirely on the assumptions about men being unable to love unless gamed into it that Marcotte outlines above.) What is more, it comes straight from Catholic moralists.
Some have counter-attacked by saying that many feminists have been less than positive about the way men and women relate to one another sexually and that is true. But so what? The truth is that lots of social conservatives do argue in just the way that Marcotte says they do and I'm not sure what they think they are going to accomplish with this line of argument. Reduce love and marriage to the prisoner's dilemma?
I put the Heloise quote at the top because this game, and it is a game, has a long history. Abelard, in his history of their affair, takes all the blame on himself. He does so for gentlemanly reasons. The polite thing, if you were the man, was to pretend that you were the lustful one and she was fooled into going along with your planes because she wanted love or something. Anyone who cares to read Heloise's letters, however, will readily see that she wanted it much more than he did.
As polite fictions go, putting the blame on women is far from the worst thing in the history of human sexual politics but it is just a polite fiction. Most women really, really, really like sex and it's foolish to pretend otherwise, especially when making arguments about whose interests are really served by contraception.