When a Republican congresswoman was caught groping her date in a Denver theater, the media made sure we knew about it. Within hours, corporate cable channels had wall-to-wall coverage of Lauren Boebert’s hanky-panky, including grainy video footage that played on a loop.
What followed was a familiar story: when someone on the right falls short of the mark, the media pounces. When someone on the left does the same or worse, that same media remains silent, changes the subject, or — the first two tactics having failed — decries the “politics of personal destruction.”
Writing in Salon this week, Amanda Marcotte (one of the founders of the liberal feminist blogosphere) goes beyond mocking Boebert’s lack of propriety. Marcotte argues the congresswoman’s pro-life convictions and early marriage are directly responsible for her lapse in judgment during the production of “Beetlejuice: The Musical.”
Marcotte reminds us of what is widely known: Boebert got pregnant at 16 and chose to keep her baby and marry the father. The couple later divorced. Earlier this year, the congresswoman became a grandmother at 36.
It’s gross watching a 36-year-old member of Congress act like a horny teenager, of course. But also, it’s not the biggest surprise. That’s another downside the ‘just get married’ crowd doesn’t want to acknowledge: Robbing people of their youth tends to breed a desire to make up for lost time. There’s a sexist myth that only men want to sow wild oats, but of course, women also have sexual fantasies. One of the best parts about putting off marriage for a time is that you get to make mistakes and have your adventures in your youth, when the stakes are low. Otherwise, as we see, there’s a risk that a 36-year-old grandmother publicly acts out that drunken prom date she didn’t get in high school.
Youthful Grandparents Are a Historical Norm
A little history lesson, Amanda. First of all, 36-year-old grandmothers are, in fact, quite common throughout history. I’m sure if Marcotte examines her own family tree, she will find that plenty of her ancestors became grandparents while still in their 30s.
To Marcotte, an ordinary fact that has been consistent throughout human history is scandalous and bizarre. This is, by now, a rhetorical trick familiar to observers of the American left: take what is normal and declare it perverse; take what is perverse and declare it normal.
Marcotte complains that conservatives are “robbing people of their youth.” It’s a serious charge, but an ahistorical one. The average age of first marriages (the Boeberts notwithstanding) has never been higher. Only within the last few decades have we decided that emotional maturation is somehow a 20- (or 30-!) year project.
Until very recently, only the sons of the very wealthy could spend their 20s and 30s indulging themselves and dodging responsibility. “Getting to make mistakes” and “have your adventures” before finally settling into marriage is an innovation, not a tradition.
(One wonderful part of youth is growing up with grandparents young enough to be emotionally and physically present. Encouraging people to delay marriage and childbearing is, in a very real sense, robbing the next generation of something immensely precious: a close and lengthy relationship with still-healthy grandparents.)
‘Sowing Wild Oats’ Is a Terrible Goal
Marcotte calls for a culture that allows young men and women to “sow wild oats.” She implies that those who are allowed to do so when they are young will feel no compulsion to do so when they get older. Perhaps Amanda believes we are all given a finite supply of oats, and if we can “sow” enough of them in our teens and 20s, we’ll be able to settle down, having purged ourselves of all of our adventurous impulses. As any student of psychology can tell you, that’s not how humans work.
We learn to do things by practicing them. If we practice impulsivity we become more impulsive, not less. If we practice dishonesty, it becomes easier to lie — not harder. If we get into the habit of living on junk food, we will want more junk food.
Ask an alcoholic: over time, we build up both greater tolerance and greater craving for the very thing that is harming us. It is true that some people can pass through a brief period of recklessness in their youth and then settle down into a life of responsibility and restraint. They are the exceptions, not the rule.
Women Are Happier When They’re Married
Marcotte, like many on the feminist left, worries about the renewed interest in encouraging marriage. She is aghast that even many in The New York Times dare to suggest that two parents are better than one, slamming venerable lefty Nicholas Kristof as an “alleged liberal” for arguing in favor of marriage as an essential component of a healthy society. She laments that this push towards marriage is merely a device to compel women to “settle” for unsuitable and feckless men.
As a feminist, Marcotte should (presumably) be concerned with women’s happiness. The arguments in favor of marriage — and yes, early marriage — are not rooted in a desire to disempower women. Rather, these arguments are based on the proven idea that marriage makes women happier.
That’s not just a talking point for religious conservatives. It’s science. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year (citing a massive Harvard University study),
Compared to those who didn’t marry, the married women also had lower risk of cardiovascular disease, less depression and loneliness, were happier and more optimistic, and had a greater sense of purpose and hope.
Marcotte might argue that marriage makes better sense for women who have “sowed their oats.” She argues that premarital sexual experience is a prerequisite for happiness, or at least, for greater self-control when on a date at the theater.
The problem is that once again, the evidence is not on her side. Multiple studies show that while sexual history does affect marital happiness, it is those with the highest number of premarital partners who are more likely to divorce. To mix metaphors, the evidence is compelling that wild oats, once sown, come back to haunt the sower.
It is not “robbing people of their youth” to try to prevent heartache. It is not robbing people of their youth to encourage them to marry early and have children.
I don’t doubt that Marcotte wants young women to be happy. I do doubt that she is willing to admit that marriage has the greatest likelihood of creating that happiness. I do doubt that she is willing to concede that self-restraint rather than reckless indulgence is more likely to lead to fulfillment. I do doubt that she understands that the encouragement to “sow your wild oats” is setting young people up for disillusionment and dissatisfaction.
Politically Motivated Schadenfreude
At that Denver theater, Boebert had a foolish human moment. She has rightly apologized. That should be the end of it. But because she is a conservative, and because her life and her politics give witness to her pro-life convictions, her apology is insufficient.
Rather, she must be shamed over and over again. We must see that surveillance video of her fumblings a hundred times a day. And her ordinary human frailties must somehow be connected to her deepest convictions so her embarrassment becomes an occasion to smear those who share the congresswoman’s commitment to the unborn.
As cruel and dishonest as the mockery of Boebert is, it is even worse that the left uses this incident to peddle a basic lie about human happiness. Someone is indeed robbing people of their youth, but it isn’t conservatives doing the robbing. The thieves are those who preach the lie that self-indulgence and experimentation are pathways to fulfillment rather than despair.
Hugo Schwyzer was a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College from 1993-2013. He is now a ghostwriter living in Los Angeles.