Red Families, Blue Families, and Contraception

Posted by Sappho on April 13th, 2010 filed in Marriage, Sexuality


Eve Tushnet has a bone to pick with Andrew Koppelman’s post at Balkinization, which I think I’ve linked more sympathetically. Eve writes:

… The idea is that families in “blue states” are relatively adept at transmitting some aspects of a marriage culture to their children. Massachusetts, e.g., is home to families where the children mate for life. Meanwhile “red states” produce children (they produce more children, usually, by the way) who marry in haste and repent in somewhat-delayed-haste, lots of divorces and out-of-wedlock births and similar signs of family-values hypocrisy….

These are facts, and there are a lot of ways of responding to these facts. You can explore ways in which the contemporary economy and culture, by (for example) prioritizing postsecondary education and stigmatizing living with one’s parents, has made it extraordinarily difficult to sustain a culture of more-or-less postponing sex until marriage. You could criticize the notion of marriage as the capper on life’s to-do list, to be sought only once all the other boxes are checked and you’re “stable,” rather than a foundation for a later stable life. You could, in other words, ask why a consumerist culture is so hostile to a communal and marriage-based way of life.

You could maybe talk about Protestantism! Catholic states tend to have very different problems from Protestant ones…

The other really fun thing you could do, though, is blame “red state” families for being Not Our Kind, Dear. It is just so sad that their pathetic religious delusions make them slutty hypocrites. (Yum, by the way; I think hypocrisy makes your breasts bigger.) You could argue that they’re really promoting abortion, ’cause it’s their fault they haven’t adapted to the contracepting, college-educated ways of the elite. It’s not about poverty, or the fatalism it breeds, or the terrifying knowledge of how close you really are to falling off the ladder. It’s about Baptists suck….

Now, for me, part of my reaction to Koppelman’s argument is shaped by my own impression that “red families” in the US, by and large, are also part of a contracepting culture. That is, I think that nearly everyone in the US accepts and uses contraception to some degree, and I don’t mean Natural Family Planning only, that nearly everyone expects to plan to some degree when and how many children they have, while being able to have sex pretty much at will for most of their lives, and Baptists aren’t any particular exception. The part of the “red family/blue family” divide that relates to contraception seems to be mostly about whether we should teach teenagers about contraception, or whether this should be avoided as giving implicit permission to teenagers to have sex. And, even if the argument moves toward the same conclusion, at least the way you make the argument ought to shift depending on whether you’re talking to people who don’t believe in contraception, period, or whether you’re talking to people who don’t believe in contraception just yet.

But on the broader “red family/blue family” meme, yes, sure, it would be good to, and I hope the book does, engage the whole business of different ways of framing family values in a more descriptive way as well, that looks at the areas of tension in both systems. Even if, as it seems, “blue family” states are more successful at preserving their version of marriage culture than “red family” states are at preserving theirs, there still might be interesting stuff coming up in both areas. I know that Kristin Luker, in Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, did an interesting job of staying descriptive in studying people on both sides of the controversy, to a degree where I found myself, reading the book, seeing bits of myself both in the views of the pro-life activists and the pro-choice activists; the point of the book (a reasonable one for a sociologist) was to describe, rather than judge.

Not having actually read Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture, I don’t know where it fails on the dispassionate analysis to polemic continuum, but the dispassionate analysis niche is a useful one to fill (even as the polemic niche also has its draws).

Sometime, I may have a bit more to say about “marriage as the capper on life’s to-do list.” Or not. I think I’ll just stick it on my list of possible post topics, and see whether anything brews.


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