The Left

Not So Natural

Rick Santorum
Rick Santorum
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 at the age of 32, and from 1995 to 2007, served in the US Senate. In 2000, he was elected by his peers to the position of Senate Republican Conference Chairman. | Rick Santorum, Third Party,

Conservatives can be flexible in defining human nature

Many conservatives love to talk about how they're realists about human nature. If they seem like sexist jerks at times, well, that's because they understand what men and women are really like.

George Will said in one column some years back that women who stay childless and unmarried into their thirties are unnatural. Rick Santorum's rationale for opposing birth control is that having sex without the chance of childbirth is "contrary to nature." Rush Limbaugh stated in his first book that he'd never give a male employee paternity leave because it's not natural for a man to care for the kids.

This is really a double-barreled argument: Men and women are a certain way, therefore we should structure society to conform to that. In Santorum's worldview, women were made to pop out babies, so we shouldn't allow them to evade that. Right-winger Douglas Wilson claims that giving women legal equality is bad because it makes it harder for them to obey their nature and submit to their husbands.

Both barrels of the argument fail. First off, human nature, just isn't that binary. Applying arguments that "men are x, women are y" to every member of either gender'or even most members'isn't going to get an accurate answer.

Men are, on average, more sexually active than women, and with more partners, but I have women friends who are way more active than the average man. There are women who are stronger and more aggressive than the average man and men who are more nurturing and parental than the average woman. Pick any skills'science, acrobatics, cooking, gardening'and you'll find members of both sexes who outperform members of the other sex. There's no uniquely female or male skill set.

Republicans
Republicans

Newt Gingrich, Willard Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul are candidates for the 2012 Republican Party presidential nomination. |
If nature was as fixed as these conservatives contend our concept of that nature wouldn't change so much. In the middle ages, women were seen as insatiably lustful harlots who had to be restrained by church and chastity belt; today the common assumption is that it's men who want sex, women only want love. When I was a kid, fathers stayed outside the delivery room, and it was assumed no guy would want it any other way. Now it's "natural" for fathers to watch their child come into the world.

The other barrel fails because the "follow nature" conservatives don't really believe we should let nature guide us. Santorum objects to birth control and gay marriage as unnatural but he's an enthusiastic supporter of abstinence-only education. I think we all know that for millions of teenagers, abstaining from sex isn't all that natural. For that matter, neither is adult celibacy. If Santorum's so set on us having natural sex lives, shouldn't he be criticizing the church for its unnatural rules?

But of course, Santorum, like most right-wingers who fuss about nature, really only cares about what's "natural" when it suits his agenda. It's perfectly fine to go against nature in ways he approves of. It's only an issue when he needs a weapon against something he doesn't like, such as sexually active women or gays. "You're violating what I think is the will of God" doesn't work as well as it used to to force square pegs into their round holes. "You're violating the laws of nature" is the next best thing.

But being the next best thing doesn't make it true.

Comment on Disqus

Comment on Facebook

Updated Aug 12, 2017 12:13 PM EDT | More details

AND Magazine AND MAGAZINE

©2017 AND Magazine, LLC
5 Columbus Circle, 8th Floor
New York, New York 10019 USA

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.