Sunday, July 18, 2004

Morally unprotected

Three recent items from The Age newspaper show how a liberal attitude to morality leaves women unprotected. The first (not yet online) is an interview with prominent Australian writer Helen Garner. Helen Garner describes her twenties in the 1970s as including,

A very high level of sexual activity without much emotional content. In my generation, in some areas of the middle-class educated world that I lived in - a slightly bohemian, ratty sort of world - that was considered to be what one did.

There are whole areas of my youthful behaviour which I don't really like thinking about because of the harshness of it and the thoughtlessness about other people's feelings and the narcissism, just crashing from one person to another, wounding people and in fact wounding myself, and being numb to it.

At the time, it was no doubt considered "emancipated" to behave as Helen Garner and her social milieu did, but the truth is that it was harmful, particularly to the women.

Then there is this little item on a successful raid on an illegal brothel in Melbourne. The interesting thing about this item is that it mentions the estimated number of illegal brothels now operating in Melbourne: 400!

I can remember when brothels were first legalised in Victoria. This "reform" was justified on the grounds that the legal brothels would make illegal brothels and streetwalkers unnecessary, and that the legal brothels could be better managed for health and safety issues.

This justification has turned out to be completely false. There are more streetwalkers and more illegal brothels than ever before. All that has happened is that there is now a third, legal kind of prostitution added to the previously existing ones. Making prostitution legal seems to have given it a level of social acceptability and it has flourished, both legally and illegally.

And finally, here is a very sad account by a young woman who at university mixed with other feminist women for whom abortion was "almost a rite of passage". She too hastily submitted herself to the same thing, regretting her decision at the last moment when it was too late. She believes that she was effectively misinformed about the realities of abortion by feminist women's organisations. She writes,

I believed I was well informed. I did my best to be. Afterwards, I realised I had not been well informed at all.

If anything, I had been misinformed. At no point had I been told that going through an abortion can be extremely psychologically distressing. I did not know that women's lives can fall apart the way mine did as a result. The "unbiased" information and language, supposedly feminist, did not make me feel empowered. It denied my truth, and saved society from another single mother.

Liberalism claims that it is emancipating women, but as the above examples show, it too often leaves young women unprotected. A woman made emotionally numb by a culture of promiscuity, or a woman prostituting herself, or a woman living with the pain of a regretted abortion can't be described as happily liberated.

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