STOKING FIRE: The Chastity-Prolife Connection


Eleanor Bader writes a monthly column for RH Reality Check.

Generation Life, a national Catholic youth group founded in
1999 by ultra-right winger Brandi Swindell, sees its raison d’être as pushing
“the chastity-prolife connection."

 

The West Chester, Pennsylvania-headquartered group “sidewalk
counsels” outside the Philadelphia Women’s Center at least once a month. It’s
the usual taunts and vitriol, say clinic staff and volunteers, but with a
twist–a message that can only be described as befuddling: “Chastity is for
lovers.”

“They lecture us when they picket, saying, ‘God doesn’t want
sex outside of marriage. He gave us sex to propagate. Be chaste,’ ” Escort
Co-coordinator Chris Hill says. They also target particular demographics with
messages that they hope will resonate. African Americans patients, for example,
are warned that they might be murdering the next Barack Obama. Similarly, men
who accompany their girlfriends or wives to the facility are hit with machismo:
“Real men step up. They don’t kill their babies.”

And that’s the crux of Generation Life’s mission, the
preaching of an ossified formula of gendered behavior that is both intensely
rigid and rooted in fantasy. Their website, www.generationlife.org, lays out the
basics. In a section for young women, the instructions read like a roadmap for
submission. “A lady is modest, pure, and chaste, understands chastity, values
her sexuality, appreciates her fertility…Knows her body is a Temple of the Holy
Spirit…She loves babies and nurtures her family. She is the heart of her home,
finds strength in her husband, understands sacrificial love, and is happy and
content.“ In short, the message is simple: Suck it up, girls, and remember the
hierarchy.  Women obey men and men
obey God.

But that’s not all. In The World According to Generation
Life, “Dressing modestly is the frontline to chastity. It isn’t fair to say one
thing to a guy with verbal language and another with your body or clothes
language. If you make a commitment to living chastity, wearing skimpy, tight,
or revealing clothes will make it hard for you to attract the right kind of
guys to date.”

You can almost see Generation Life’s theoreticians shrugging
their shoulders and grinning impishly, as if to say, “boys will be boys,”
penile-driven creatures unable to resist the lust that has bedeviled
red-blooded [read straight] males, from peasants to presidents, since time
immemorial.

“Guys are stimulated differently than girls,” the website
adds. “Open mouth kissing will lead a guy to become sexually aroused but a girl
will simply feel more affection toward him…Guys have a higher sex drive and
girls have a higher love drive.” 
This dichotomy, Generation Life reports, requires “real” men to not only
be chaste, but to be chivalrous. “Girls don’t want to be the ones to initiate.
They want a guy who will initiate.”

It’s like a fairy tale, with Knights in Shining Armor protecting
needy damsels from external threats. The trick, of course, is having a quiver
full of children and opposing abortion and family planning.

It’s worth underscoring that opposition to abortion is a key
tool in Generation Life’s ideological toolbox. Indeed, it’s the hook used to
snare kids into paying attention to the group’s larger political messages—opposition
to gender equality and sexual freedom. 
In fact, in the workshops they offer in 7th and 8th
grade parochial school classrooms across the country, gory pictures of
allegedly aborted fetuses are used to gross out students. It’s then a short
leap from revulsion—after all, few of us relish looking at pictures of bloody
body parts—to the promotion of celibacy until marriage. Of course, 12 and 13
year olds who don’t know better are predictably receptive to black-and-white
rules about “chaste living,” dating, and sexual propriety.

Furthermore, few middle schoolers question the behavioral
tenets that Generation Life puts forward, all of them enforced and controlled
by girls and women.  Among them:
necklines should not be lower than four fingers below the collarbone; garments should
not be sheer, or made of thin material or spandex; snappy backs, halters, and
backless dresses or blouses should be avoided; tank tops should be covered by a
jacket or sweater; shirts should not be shorter than four fingers above the
knees; and pants should not be tight or form-fitting. If there are controls on acceptable
male apparel, they’re not listed on Generation Life’s roster of don’ts.

It’s one of the few areas in which the group’s behavioral
restrictions are in any way opaque. According to Amanda Kitterly, Director of
Clinic Affairs at the Philadelphia Women’s Center, Gen Life protesters not only
impose restrictions on how members are supposed to dress, the leadership views
the world as a place where hard-and-fast principles can be applied to relationships,
as if right and wrong are as clear-cut as day and night, straight and
crooked.  “They try to make good
women feel bad by standing outside the clinic and saying things like, ‘We can
tell you what’s right for your life. You’re wrong to have an abortion,’ “
Kitterly says. “If you ask them what they hope to accomplish by protesting at
the clinic, they’ll tell you that they’re there to preach God’s love. But it’s
so clear to me that this is not about either God or love. It’s about owning
women and governing what women do. It’s about judgment and hatred.” 

Lastly, please note that Generation
Life is not anomalous. Instead, it’s one of several “pro-chastity-prolife”
groups, among them, True Love Waits, The Abstinence Clearinghouse, and
lovematters.com.

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To schedule an interview with Eleanor J. Bader please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • soclosetolife

    This issue always frustrates me.

    For an equally frustrating exploration of modesty (one which is not necessarily ANTI-feminist) try A Return To Modesty by Wendy Shalit.

  • marysia

    treating sex as if it is for procreation only, instead of supporting people’s freedom and right to have sex for other purposes, has the effect of *increasing* abortions.

    because if sex is only for those who have official approval to procreate, then women who become pregnant in “unauthorized” situations will be heavily stigmatized, as will their children.


    On Common Ground Columnist & Editor, Nonviolent Choice Directory

  • jeffreyrodman

    The pro-abortion movement has never been above fabricating or exaggerating numbers to fit a purpose. Much of the loss of government funding for abstinence education could be blamed on exaggerated numbers.

    With government funding vanishing for programs that prevent abortions and value a pro-life perspective, how are ministries and other non-profits to fund their efforts?

    Many of the Christian Ministries I work with are dismayed to find that few foundations, even Christian Foundations with conservative values, are interested in truly saving babies.

    I am hopeful that as 2010 progresses foundations will recognize this need and bgin to respond to the changes in government funds to address the issue.

    My company, Here-4-You Christian Grant Consulting is working with crisis pregnancy centers; single parent programs, adoption resource centers, residential services for pregnant teens, and other programs that are in desperate need of funding to continue the work they have started.

  • colleen

    With government funding vanishing for programs that prevent abortions
    and value a pro-life perspective, how are ministries and other
    non-profits to fund their efforts?

     

     

     Tithing.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • crowepps

    The pro-abortion movement

    Who’s that?  I don’t know of anybody who’s promoting abortions.  Even China has pretty much abandoned their failed policies there.

     Much of the loss of government funding for abstinence education could be blamed on exaggerated numbers.

    It was really, REALLY a bad idea to use all those inaccuracies in the curriculum, wasn’t it?  There just something about a bald-faced lie like "50% of the women who have abortions commit suicide" or "HIV can travel right through a condom" that leads the program open to criticism from reality based nitpickers.  Telling the truth might have worked — too bad they didn’t try that.

    Many of the Christian Ministries I work with are dismayed to find that few foundations, even Christian Foundations with conservative values, are interested in truly saving babies.

    Those foundations may be very interested in ‘saving babies’, but apparently the grants which you are paid to prepare aren’t convincing them your clients are accomplishing that.  My experience with foundations is that they interested in proof of actual effectiveness, not just providing a living to someone who has the right ideology.

     

    You might want to encourage your clients to provide information you can incorporate that shows that they are having a positive effect in women’s lives and actually ‘saving babies’.  Long-term follow-up studies are always impressive.  Assuming they actually are having a positive effect in women’s lives and saving babies, of course.

     

    It’s also really impressive to the foundations when the people who want to pay themselves a salary out of their grant monies have actual credentials from a reputable school and actual work experience in the field instead of just being self-qualified because they are ‘Christian’ and ‘ProLife’. 

    My company, Here-4-You Christian Grant Consulting is working with crisis pregnancy centers; single parent programs, adoption resource centers, residential services for pregnant teens, and other programs that are in desperate need of funding to continue the work they have started.

    I think it’s wonderful that as a professional you’ve chosen a field where you can make a living providing services to organizations that are doing work you think is really needed.

     

    I also think it’s wonderful that government funds aren’t being used to pay for any of it.

  • catseye71352

    You mean, those institutions that disguise themselves as clinics and lie to and intimidate any woman or girl who walks in their door? That is actually a GOOD thing.

    Catseye  ( (|) )

  • catseye71352

    It’s a good thing that CPC’s are being defunded.

    Catseye  ( (|) )

  • kate-ranieri

    " . . . they’ll tell you that they’re there to preach God’s love. But it’s so clear to me that this is not about either God or love. It’s about owning women and governing what women do. It’s about judgment and hatred."

     

    The Philadelphia, PA clinic anti choicers mirror the hateful, terroristic, stigmatizing behavior at the clinic in Allentown PA. One in particular has gone on record for calling women murderers; another has quite bluntly acknowledged that their record of saving is practically nil. He has also said that he wants women to remember walking into the clinic as if they were walking into the gates of Hell.

     

    Kinda’ takes a big swipe at all this God talk. 

  • kate-ranieri

    You seem to be soliciting especially with your opening propaganda tactic of using the misnomer "pro-abortion" and then suggesting funding is a result of a fudging of the results/numbers. In fact, the fudging of results, if there were a movement to blame, lies solely in the lap of the those who promoted abstinence programs. 

     

    Further evidence of shameless soliciting begins with "My company . . ."

     

    Here’s a bit of advice: Solicit elsewhere! 

  • paul-bradford

    The message is simple: Suck it up, girls, and remember the hierarchy. Women obey men and men obey God.

     

    Eleanor, 

     

    My critique of your piece is that you’re not really trying to engage the Chastity/Pro-Life advocates in conversation and in an open exchange of ideas.  It seems, rather, that you’re trying to marginalize them.  My reading of your post is, "These people aren’t really worth talking to, they’re simply tools of the establishment.  We obviously can’t shut them up, but we should try to make sure that no one listens to them or takes them seriously."  The end result is that they don’t feel listened to, you don’t feel listened to, and nobody has a chance to learn anything useful that might enable them to modify or improve their understanding.

     

    I think we can do better than that. 

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • kate-ranieri

    You, Paul, don’t seem to be listening either. As with many comments that you have made on this site and as many women have written in response to your comments, we don’t feel like you listen. Each piece that is written on this site does not have to be an open exchange. Pieces such as the above are valuable as a "know this" type, an informational awareness article. And for that, I applaud Eleanor. 

  • crowepps

    This is a standard tool in the authoritarian toolbox.  If someone criticizes a pressure group with whom you are sympathetic, then protest that ‘free speech’ and ‘religious freedom’ and so on are all being disrespected because ‘dialogue’ isn’t being solicited.

     

    Unfortunately, ‘dialogue’ is not possible with fringe ideological groups, because as ideologues they aren’t interested in respectful conversation but instead with stigmatization of anyone and everyone outside the group.

     

    The Chastity and Wait Till Marriage groups are trying to resurrect fringe positions about sexuality that still persist in religious texts but have been abandoned by the great majority of our population.  Their argument is that they SHOULD work rather than that they actually do work.

     

    They are blatantly ignorant of the unworkability of their ‘ideals’ as demonstrated by their history in societies where attempts were made by governments or religions to enforce them, and unable to recognize the injustice of the enormous costs which were levied on women and children to punish deviations while men largely escaped the consequences.

     

    They continue in this willful ignorance even while the news reports exactly those problems on-going at the present time in areas like the Middle East, where women are being killed for not being ‘chaste’ or ‘modest’ or ‘pure’ or for being forced to ‘fornicate’ during rapes.  The ideal and the enforcement problems are inseparably linked together.

     

    These groups hide the true mechanisms of what would happen if they reached their goals and demand society’s permission to have access to other people’s children to promote emotionalist propaganda that might succeed in convincing children that these ideals deserve resurrection.  The irony of ‘promoting family values’ by convincing children that their parents were ‘fornicators’ and therefore deviant and undeserving of respect seems to just slide right by.