Privilege is everywhere. Privilege is the word of the day. And it's just the accident of birth that leaves you on the right or the wrong side of privilege. And, really, whether it's privilege related to class, race, economic status, gender, looks, or even intelligence, there is a right or a wrong side. If you don't believe it, think to yourself about whether or not you'd feel afraid of walking home after going to buy some Skittles because you might be shot through the heart. That's the world we live in right now, where the ability to walk in your own neighborhood without fearing assault is a privilege. And, you know, fuck that. Fuck that, but don't deny what the reality is. There are people who are born into power, and there are people who have to fight for it, every step of the way.
But so, sex. This past weekend, the New York Times ran an article addressing the stunning new revelation that college girls like to have sex. Which, ha ha, New York Times. Pretty funny to publish a seven-page article on the topic of women's bodies and sexuality which deals with, among other things, date rape and sexual violence and put it in the Fashion & Styles section. I guess everything having to do with women is just automatically shunted into Fashion? Cool. Good to know.
Within the scope of the article, however, was something that was far more notable than the young woman who sees sex as something with a concrete "cost-benefit" ratio or the fact that there is apparently a thing now called "difmo" or "dance floor make-out." I guess what I'm trying to say is, alarming as the acronym "difmo" is (which, VERY alarming), there was actually an interesting element to the piece that isn't even worth mocking. At one point in the article, which concerns the sexual proclivities of female undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania, author Kate Taylor, notes that "campuses are not sexual free-for-alls" and speaks with "Mercedes, a junior at Penn who is on financial aid." Mercedes comes from a "mostly Latino public high school in California" where she says "it was the troubled and unmotivated students who drank and hooked up, while the honors students who wanted to go to college kept away from those things." Now at Penn, Mercedes "was surprised to see her elite classmates drinking, but even more surprised by the casual making out." Taylor further illuminates that "[Mercedes's} unease was common among students from relatively modest backgrounds...women from wealthier backgrounds were much more likely to hook up, more interested in postponing adult responsibilities and warier of serious romantic commitment than their less-affluent classmates."
So this is interesting, right? What reason does Taylor give for there being such a disparity between the wealthier students and those who are less economically privileged? Well, she doesn't really give any. Instead she allows Mercedes to claim, “Nothing is stopping me from rebelling. I just didn’t rebel.” And then Taylor moves on. But wait. Not to take anything away from Mercedes and the choice she has made, but, well, it isn't really much of a choice when you come from an economically disadvantaged background, is it? When Mercedes recalls that it was the "troubled" students at her high school who had the most sex and were frequent partiers, what she's leaving unmentioned is that those students are seen as troubled because they very publicly pay the consequences of casual sex, namely, they get pregnant and don't have the same types of options afforded to them that their wealthier, better connected peers do.
One of the reasons that this particular article was immediately derided by most women that I know, is that, at first glance, it seems to be one of those terribly obvious Times trend pieces, like the one on how city families move to the suburbs, that isn't really a "trend" at all, just a fact of life. Most women I know said something along the lines of: "Of course women like to have sex as much as men. What was the Times smoking when it green-lit this article?" But the issue isn't whether or not women want sex as much as men, it's whether or not they have the power to control the situation in the same way a man can. Which, let's face it, that will never be the case. It will always be the man who has the power in a sexual relationship because it is only the woman who can get pregnant. It is no coincidence that women's prominence in the workplace coincided with newfound accessibility to family planning, including both birth control pills and legalized abortion. Suddenly, women had control over the destiny of their own bodies, and a lot of the time, women chose to do exactly what men had always done, namely, enjoy their bodies—including through sex—without the burden of knowing that any wrong move could forever change the rest of their lives.
And so it would seem like the privilege of being a male, at least in the realm of certain kinds of sexual freedom, is a thing of the past. With abortion legalized and birth control readily available and—perhaps most importantly—a comprehensive sex education policy in schools to teach young women who might not already know exactly what their choices are, everyone can live happily ever after, right? Yeah, right. Except that many places in the US have abstinence-only sex ed curriculum, and places like Planned Parenthood which offer reasonably priced birth control are defunded, and access to safe abortions has become more and more difficult to find in places like Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina. Outrageous as all this is for every woman, the women who it will impact the most, obviously, are the women who don't have the funds to travel the extra distance to get an abortion, and who don't have health insurance that will pay for contraception. These are the women that Mercedes is familiar with, and that's why she associates sexual freedom with a dead-end life. Mercedes doesn't get to enjoy the privileges that her wealthier classmates do. If they have unprotected sex, they can pay fifty bucks for Plan B without even blinking an eye. For someone without the money, one night of fun could easily lead to a lifetime of responsibility.
And it is for that reason that it almost makes perverse sense that, last week, the Texas State Legislature confiscated tampons and condoms from the protestors who had come out to oppose the passage of the restrictive new abortion legislation. Tampons and condoms, you see, might be used as weapons. Guns, as usual, were allowed into legislative chambers. But in this case, condoms and tampons are weapons. They are weapons in the fight against an oppressive system that is working to make it difficult for women to have the same freedoms that men do with their bodies. And the sad truth is, the more money and the more education a woman has, the less she will be affected by restrictive laws. It's the less economically secure women who will, as they historically always do, pay the price of privilege.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen