On Thursday, May 31st, the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture hosted the Catholic Women’s Forum event titled “#MeToo Moment: Second Thoughts on the Sexual Revolution” in Washington, DC. Speakers included His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC, who gave the keynote address; Helen Alvaré, JD, Professor of Law, Scalia Law School at George Mason University; and Mary Eberstadt, who is a widely noted author and Senior Fellow at the Faith & Reason Institute.
Eberstadt has been writing and speaking about the Sexual Revolution for many years, including in books, such Adam and Eve after the Pill, and articles, including her 2012 Wall Street Journal essay “Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women?” In her opening remarks, entitled “The Cultural Moment,” she noted that we have a great advantage today over those who started and supported the Sexual Revolution of the 60s, saying:
Unlike our forerunners in 1968, those of us living today now have access to something they didn’t: 50 years of sociological, psychological, medical, and other evidence about the Sexual Revolution and its fallout. Thanks to the MeToo movement, the time has come to examine some of that evidence.
The process of examining and re-visiting the evidence, she said, “is not theological or religious or even, necessarily, philosophical. It is empirical, based on objectively derived evidence and data.” There are, she argued, several reasons for various sex scandals that have generated so many headlines and the MeToo movement:
Where in the world do otherwise sophisticated and knowledgeable men learn such obtuseness, such emotional unintelligence? The question answers itself. Pornography, like the revolution of which it is a bastard child, has become ubiquitous, and it not only deforms individual relationships. It is now working its way like invisible ink into the scripts and expectations of our time. It is re-sequencing our very lives.
A great many of the prominent men brought down in these scandals are have been closely identified with a political worldview that could be called the “revolution-first.” Most wore their feminist credentials on their sleeves. Many were public advocates, sometimes even major benefactors, of the abortion industry. “And this non-coincidence, too, is something we can’t pretend not to know,” said Eberstadt. “Some men have plainly infiltrated important cultural precincts under the false flag of being ‘pro-woman’ because they’re ‘good’ on abortion…. They’ve been using pro-abortion politics as protective coloration for harassment and exploitation.”
“There’s an unbroken line of them extending straight back to Hugh Hefner, who was agitating for legal abortion fully eight years before Roe v. Wade precisely because he understood one big thing: abortion is the factory floor to the industrial sexual use of women.”
Eberstadt spoke to CWR shortly before the conference began and discussed some of her findings and analysis.
CWR: Can you connect the dots between the Sexual Revolution and the MeToo movement?
Mary Eberstadt: Yes, absolutely. What did we see in the MeToo movement? Women have been harassed and objects of pursuit when they didn’t want to be. We’ve seen this happening on a very large scale, not only in the United States, but in other supposedly sophisticated countries. What does this mean? Well, what it means is that the Sexual Revolution’s first assumption, which is that women are always and everywhere available for recreational sex, is what powers the MeToo movement because it’s the same thing that powers the scandals. If you didn’t have the assumption of ubiquitous contraception, it would be impossible for so many men to try to take advantage of so many women in such a serial fashion.
CWR: What evidence is there for this link?
Eberstadt: I think the evidence is in the causal chain. Beginning about 50 years ago, society de-stigmatizes non-marital sex, or at least many people in society do. This is the beginning of the Sexual Revolution. Before that, it would have been impossible to witness events on the scale of these secular sex scandals. Why? Because before that, if men were hitting on women all over the place, there would have been the possibility of pregnancy, for which men were assumed to take responsibility. And to a world governed instead by contraception, men no longer have that responsibility; society doesn’t even project it onto them. So only in a world where men are assumed not to take responsibility is it possible to try to take advantage of all these women.
CWR: Why is the link between the sexual revolution and the MeToo movement so little known or acknowledged?
Eberstadt: People are story-tellers by nature, and most of the attention has been, understandably, on the individual stories of men who fell from grace, or women who were victims of these scandals. That’s natural. But what we’re trying to do at this conference is switch the focus from individual people to society at large, and to look at the deeper, fundamental changes in society that have made something like the MeToo movement possible in the first place.
CWR: What do you wish women knew about the sexual revolution or our current cultural mores?
Eberstadt: I wish humanity generally knew more about the disadvantageous empirical fallout of the revolution. There’s a lot of data on broken homes, cohabitation, etc., etc., showing that the way we live now is making a lot of people miserable and also having terrible consequences, in some cases, for children. That empirical record needs to be brought to the light, and it’s something that all people of reason can understand.
But for women in particular, there’s a very important take-home from this movement. If you look at where the scandals originated (although it’s not fair to say that they’re altogether a creature of progressivism), obviously: Hollywood, Silicon Valley, major mainstream newsrooms, National Public Radio…all these places that have been focal points of the scandal are synonymous with being pro-Sexual Revolution in their ideology. So what’s happened is that obviously some men have been able to use their pro-abortion ideology as a fig leaf, and to be harassers and predators because women think they [these men] are pro-women.
What women need to do—and I think this is true for all women—is to break that false association according to which being “pro-abortion” is being pro-woman. The MeToo movement shows in spades why that association doesn’t exist.
CWR: Where can non-experts learn more about these empirical data?
Eberstadt: A lot of social scientists have been writing for non-experts for many years: great thinkers like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, James Q. Wilson, who did a lot of work on the connection between crime and fatherless homes, for example. And then moving into more recent times, I think the work of sociologists Brad Wilcox and Mark Regnerus is especially important. Also Ignatius Press, frankly, has done a lot of good work in this regard [Editor’s note: Ignatius Press publishes CWR]. More and more, people who write for an academic audience are trying to write for a general audience as well, and that’s absolutely something we’re trying to do with this conference: to take data assembled by experts and put it into language that laymen can understand.
CWR: What would you like to say to American Catholics on all this?
Eberstadt: Well, it’s so interesting in this anniversary year of Humanae Vitae to see the anniversary coinciding with the MeToo movement and the scandals that created it. I would say to American Catholics that the Church, in a very difficult time, got one of the biggest calls in history right. The document was prophetic for reasons lots of people have talked about this year, but also in prophesying a world where men and women would be ever more estranged, thanks to contraception. Humanae Vitae really saw the MeToo movement coming. I think Catholics should be proud of…that teaching of 2,000 years…and proud, in the right way, of the Church for standing as a sign of contradiction.
CWR: What do you hope will be the outcome of the conference?
Eberstadt: Most of all we hope that those outside of the religious orbit will give second thought as to why some of us haven’t been cheerleaders of the Sexual Revolution. For the most part, I don’t think secular people have given a fair hearing to critiques of the Sexual Revolution, but as of the MeToo movement, it’s clear that this isn’t just some religious preoccupation.
The problem of sexual harassment is system-wide, and it cuts across social class, it cuts across just about every way that we usually divide ourselves. For that reason, secular people have to be attentive to it as they have never been before. What we’re hoping is that we can create a new alliance of rational men and women, whatever their political views otherwise, to look at this empirical record, understand that things have gone badly wrong, and that the Sexual Revolution is not something we should take for granted as a fact of life; it is something that we need to treat like any other social phenomena and to ask, when it’s hurting us, how we might change the game.
• View the full video of Mary Eberstadt’s “The Cultural Moment“:
All of the conference presentations—and more—are available at the Catholic Women’s Forum website.