The connection between ‘original sin,’ misogyny, and white supremacism

So a rabbi on Twitter posted an inquiry which wasn’t directed at me, but to which I responded:

I wrote,

There’s nothing really wrong here, and people seem to appreciate the response, except that owing to the exigencies of space on a Twitter post, even with the character limit having been raised to 280, I didn’t explain how I got to this.

So here it is: In my reading, it was George Lakoff who first pointed out the relationship between innocence in the womb and a sinful state outside of it that, for social and traditionalist conservatives, rationalize positions on the death penalty and on war that seem at odds with so-called “pro-life” rhetoric.[2] I filled in the blank between—Lakoff didn’t write that, even if in retrospect it seems obvious—and it’s an important blank for the simple reason that women often (correctly, in my view) perceive right wing Christianity as anti-woman.

There are lots of reasons for this. First, there’s the whole stigmatization of sex. Let’s face it: This is really, really weird and I don’t understand it.

Jack Holland points to Plato as associating intellect (the air, heaven) with the masculine and sensuality (the earth, the low) with the feminine.[3] I haven’t read Plato but I think Holland’s reading finds support in Richard Tarnas’ tome on the development of western thought,[4] a book brilliantly complemented in another tome by Max Oelschlaeger.[5] Along this long, long path, Tarnas illuminates Plato’s thinking[6] and Oelschlaeger shows how our present system of social organization developed as a conquest of nature,[7] and by an implication noted by Riane Eisler, women.[8]

So I think Holland got it right. My problem here is I don’t understand why we would choose to stigmatize pleasure. But if there’s a way to refute that this world view is anti-woman, I’m sure as fuck not seeing it.

Second, and only partly—yes, only partly—from the first point, we can see how right-wing Christian attitudes toward contraception and abortion shift the burden of pleasure to women. Men really are getting something of a free ride here.

But there’s more, and this is where this already evil way of thinking turns truly perverse. Here, I must confess my evidence is circumstantial.

To explain, I need to delve into some history. In early U.S. history at least, when women were chattel, there was a neat dodge on abortion. The medical treatment for a missed period was the same as the procedure for an abortion. (Okay, in unison now, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Honestly, no, I’m not.) All a woman had to say was that she had not felt fetal movement in her womb (“quickening”), and she could be treated for a “missed period.”[9] For the rest of this, I’ll quote from my dissertation:

Though drawing on Calvinist ideas that date back to the Protestant Reformation, social conservatism, in the form we recognize it today, probably took shape in the mid- to late 19th century, especially in the post-Civil War era with the Industrial Revolution. As Deborah Rhode (1993) described it, it is at this time that young men and young women began migrating away from home in larger numbers (apparently, although she does not specify, to cities). Often they found each other and all too often, young women found themselves pregnant, with the responsible young men nowhere in sight.

Men who fail to take responsibility for their offspring may certainly be cause for moral outrage, but other events were happening as well that cast an entirely different light on the rise of social conservatism. This is also a time when the 13th Amendment freed Black slaves from the plantations, the 15th Amendment guaranteed all men, including non-whites, the vote, the 14th Amendment sought to ensure that all men, including non-whites, had equal protection under and access to due process of law, and by the early 20th century, a massive migration of often-Catholic, often non-native English speaking, often darker-skinned southern and eastern Europeans to the United States was under way (Boyer et al., 2005). It appears that a lot of “married, native-born, Protestant women, frequently of middle- or upper-class status” were obtaining abortions under the ruse of treatment for missed menstrual periods (Kerber & De Hart, 2004, p. 188). Rhode (1993) also noted a “decline in fertility rates among the ‘better classes’ during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [that] sparked fears of ‘race suicide’” (p. 642). In other words, white women, especially middle- and upper-class white women, were needed to produce white babies, especially white male babies, to preserve white hegemony. Rhode noted that “In the mid-nineteenth century, [there was] growth of religious revival movements and moral reform societies, together with the culture idealization of domesticity” (p. 638).[10]

In the era of authoritarian populist, verging on paleoconservative (white supremacist), Donald Trump, it is, if anything, surprising that the push to overturn Roe v. Wade has not been more prominent. And yes, I certainly understand why many women accordingly view Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court as an existential threat.

This isn’t the whole story of religious misogyny by a long shot. Eisler refers to “desert religions,” including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as often repressive of sex and of women[11] and, to my knowledge, only Christianity has the concept of original sin.

But it’s far from unreasonable to connect the concept of original sin not only to anti-abortion views but to misogyny and white supremacism.

  1. [1]Danya Ruttenberg, [microblog post], Twitter, November 25, 2018,
  2. [2]George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2002).
  3. [3]Jack Holland, Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2006).
  4. [4]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  5. [5]Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
  6. [6]Richard Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View (New York: Harmony, 1991).
  7. [7]Max Oelschlaeger, The Idea of Wilderness (New Haven, CT: Yale University, 1991).
  8. [8]Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (1987; repr., New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1995); Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2007).
  9. [9]Linda K. Kerber and Jane Sherron De Hart, eds., Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 6th ed. (New York: Oxford, 2004).
  10. [10]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126), 48-49.
  11. [11]Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler, 2007).

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