Not many years ago during the Christmas season, one could revel in the general good will celebrated in the media, then steel oneself for a return to more normal conditions shortly thereafter, not least because the infamous date January 22, the anniversary of the day on which abortion was suddenly found to be a constitutional right, looms ahead.
But in recent years I have noticed that the media no longer bother to call a truce during the holidays, and if anything use the opportunity to escalate hostilities.
This year the Washington Post published on Christmas Day a column by one of its regulars, Richard Cohen, decrying a jury decision in Los Angeles in which an actress named Hunter Tylo was awarded five million dollars for having been fired from a role in the television series “Melrose Place.”
Cohen raised one legitimate point—that Ms. Tylo was hired to play a “steamy vixen” and could scarcely have thought that being pregnant was compatible with that image. He got in a few licks at the sordid world of television “drama” and, had he stopped there, would have struck a glancing blow at media hypocrisy.
But Cohen could not stop there. Was the verdict a victory for feminism? Certainly one might think so, since for years feminists have been insisting that a woman’s physical condition, including pregnancy, should not be a barrier to any kind of career opportunity and that hiring policies that take pregnancy into account are inherently “sexist.”
Don’t be fooled, Cohen warned. The verdict is really a victory for those wicked pro-life people, who have “turned pregnancy and childbirth into some sort of miracle, a virtual religious phenomenon.”
Well then, one might ask, what is it? Cohen’s sneers make sense only on one assumption—pregnancy is an unfortunate medical condition that every right-thinking woman will terminate without scruple as soon as it inconveniences her career. Feminists insist that no woman ever has an abortion for frivolous reasons. Cohen implies that among the “serious” reasons that justify abortion is Hunter Tylo’s need to keep on qualifying in the public eye as a “steamy vixen,” an image that feminists routinely condemn.
Along the way, in this Christmas offering to the readers of his newspaper, Cohen got in the obligatory sneer at “immaculate conception.” Writers who offend particular groups in this manner are ordinarily accused of being “insensitive,” meaning that they don’t realize what they are doing. That is certainly not true of Cohen—he meant to offend, his editors meant for him to offend, and Christmas Day was chosen precisely for that purpose.
Like so many other media figures, Cohen got in a few licks at the McCaughey family who produced septuplets a month or so ago. Those births, he sneered, were “glossed over with a patina of religion and sanctimony.”
Cohen gave the obligatory feminist spin by lamenting that both cases constitute a “sad example of a woman pretending she has no control over her life,” a statement that at first makes one think that the little word “no” got in there by mistake. After all, here are two women who precisely exercised “control” by choosing to have children.
Pro-abortionists have gotten maximum mileage out of their slogan about “choice,” insisting that they want nothing more than to give each woman the right to decide whether to bear a child. But it has long been obvious that this is a sham. When it comes down to it, feminists believe that only one choice is the proper one and those who choose motherhood deserve censure.
I am tempted to think that Cohen, in letting this particular cat out of the bag, has done his cause harm. But on second thought I doubt it. Just as his offensive sneers were calculated, so also was his casual rejection of freedom of choice. He is ratcheting up the debate to the next level, where “opinion leaders” like himself will increasingly argue for legal restrictions on the right to bear children.
Part of this is the unrecognized phenomenon of moral ressentiment (Max Scheler’s illuminating term), which is one product of the sexual revolution. Those who have made the revolution cannot endure the fact that others still look upon them with disapproval. The revolutionaries have lingering guilt feelings sufficient to require them to discredit those who disapprove. Thus for a woman to choose to have a baby under the circumstances described by Richard Cohen is experienced as an implicit claim to moral superiority that must be denounced.
The sexual revolution will not be complete until all vestiges of moral scruple have been erased. Thus pro-abortionists are unwilling to condemn the practice even in the most heinous cases because to do so would be to admit that it is a morally questionable act. They will finally feel safe, psychologically, only when the practice is seen as wholly benign, to the point where people who choose not to have an abortion under difficult circumstances are viewed as themselves morally deficient.
The obligation of political correctness also imposes itself here, since part of it is the determination that certain beliefs or practices, while legally permissible, must be deprived of all social respectability. Thus a principled commitment to motherhood cannot be allowed to go unchallenged when it appears to conflict with what feminists consider the “correct” choice for women. Feminists insist that mothers receive special consideration from their employers, but not in situations where every “responsible” woman would choose an abortion.
Most obvious, of course, is the relentless propaganda for “population control,” which from the beginning has belied all the rhetoric about choice. The most ardent populationists have never concealed the fact that for them choice is something to be invoked only by those who approve of abortion. Those who wish to have children will increasingly be forced to justify themselves, and will be repeatedly told that their own “selfish” wishes cannot be allowed to jeopardize the good of society.
James Hitchcock is Professor emeritus of History at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He and his late wife Helen have four daughters. His most recent book is the two-volume work, The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life (Princeton University Press, 2004). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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