Blogging has shown me what a bubble I've lived in all my life. This might not endear me to all of you, but it’s the truth and I think it’s crucial to be honest here, especially in a post like this. When I was in high school, we were never asked if we’d go to college; it was simply assumed that we all would. I can’t think of anyone I've met who has never left his or her state. In fact, almost everyone I know has a passport. I have a total of three Facebook connections who are virulently right-wing and, although the majority of my friends are spiritual in one way or another, I don’t know many who are dogmatic about religion. Of course I was aware that this isn't how most of America lives, but I wasn't fully conscious of how rarefied my world is until I started blogging and I met all of you – you wonderful women with completely different backgrounds and beliefs. Blogging has made me truly understand how small my world is.
Now, internet chatter about pre-marital sex may seem a superficial illustration of how my eyes have been opened because of blogging, but I never knew this was such a big issue before plugging into the blogosphere and meeting such a wide variety of women whose lives are completely foreign to me. It's important to note that pre-marital sex is emblematic of many much larger issues that have motivated me to write, though I think that each of you will draw your own connections as they’re relevant to your lives. Finally, while I am writing now in response to Steven Crowder’s opinion piece on Fox News about waiting for marriage, I am not writing to him. As Alexandra Petri wrote in the Washington Post after Todd Kincannon referenced Trayvon Martin in a series of ugly tweets during the Superbowl, "The trouble with thick-skinned people capable of rolling with the punches is that they make the brawl last longer than it ought to... It is so easy to be offended. It is so easy to offend. It is a stupid and pointless exercise if that’s all it is." So I’m not blogging here to get back at Steven Crowder. We don’t need to drag out the insults and the derision. And I’m certainly not judging him for the choice that he and his wife made. I’m blogging because I think we need a new way to look at the idea that we all have the right to make whatever choices we want for ourselves – and to be respected regardless of the choices we do make.
I've been reading a book recently called Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny by Amartya Sen, a Nobel-winning economist and philosopher. It examines how the way we define both ourselves and others leads us again and again into war. Let me share a few of the lines that jumped out at me after reading Steven Crowder’s post:
The world is frequently taken to be a collection of religions or of civilizations or cultures, ignoring the other identities that people have and value, involving class, gender, profession, language, science, morals, and politics. This unique divisiveness is much more confrontational than the universe of plural and diverse classifications that shape the world in which we actually live.
Some of our identities are simply contradictory: for instance, it is hard to be Jewish and a lover of pork products. However, Sen writes, "What we need, above all, is a clear-headed understanding of the importance of the freedom that we can have in determining our priorities… one has to decide what exact importance to attach that identity over the relevance of other categories to which one also belongs." Therefore, as a Jew who enjoys bacon, I can determine that, on Sunday morning, a full English breakfast is my priority and, the following Friday night, that adherence to the laws of the Torah takes precedence.
We each have an understanding of our own identities, one that may or may not overlap with the identities that we are assigned by others. Steven Crowder sees me as a floozy; obviously, this isn't a definition I use to label myself. However, we have clearly made different choices in our lives. The next choice we have to make is whether or not this identity – a person who waited for marriage or one who didn't – is the ultimate by which we define ourselves. And if it is, we have to ask ourselves if this identity absolutely precludes all the others that we own.
If that’s the case – well, then I probably can’t say much to sway you. But I’d urge you to appreciate that we all have the right to craft our own identities and to prioritize them in the way that is best for us. Some of us have sex before marriage. Some of us don’t. Some of us are content with our relationships and sexual history. Some of us aren't. And despite what Steven Crowder says, you can’t correlate the options. Not everyone who engaged in premarital sex is unhappy, and not everyone who waited until his or her wedding night is happy. Happy or unhappy, though, we have all made our own choices. That is a right that we should refuse to relinquish to anyone.
And that brings me to my second point: concern. Many of the bloggers who shared this article said they understood where Steven Crowder was coming from. They said that they themselves had been ridiculed for waiting until marriage and/or for marrying young. As a member of what Crowder calls "the rabble of promiscuous charlatans, peddling their pathetic world view as 'progressive,'" I can tell you that I have never been directly attacked for the sexual and emotional choices I have made. But even this indirect assault felt personal. It hurt me, angered me, and frustrated me. So to those of you who have actively experienced this, let me say that I am so deeply sorry that you weren't respected in the decisions you made about your life, regardless of what they were. And I am going to suggest it means you need to reexamine your choices – but not the ones you think.
About a year ago, a New York Times opinion piece by Roger Cohen titled "Thanks for Not Sharing" made the rounds online. "So let us absorb the mass of unwanted shared personal information and images that wash over one, like some great viscous tide full of stuff one would rather not think about…" he wrote. "Please, O wired humanity, spare me, and not only the details." I don’t entirely disagree with Cohen – I, too, grimace when I see status updates about popping pimples – but here’s an excerpt from my favorite response, published in The Atlantic:
My diagnosis is simple, Roger: your friends and associates are terrible and boring. Being that you are a smart and interesting guy who would distill only the finest information from any social network, the problem is the garbage going into your feed, which can only come out as garbage in your column. And that garbage is being created by the people who you choose to follow and know.
It’s a bit harsh, I know, but so is being castigated for the choices you make – the choices that affect you (and your significant other/s, possibly) but not those who judge you. You deserve respect. Just as we who have had or will have pre-marital sex have the right to make our own decision about how to deal with our hearts and bodies, you have the right to make your own decision. If your friends make their choice in this regard their primary identity, above and beyond all the other identities that you have in common including that of friend, they don’t respect your friendship, they don’t respect your right to make choices, and, quite frankly, they don’t respect you. Maybe they shouldn't be your friends.
I know all of this is easier said than done. But I also know that I wouldn't have considered any of it if I hadn't started blogging and if I hadn't been introduced to this amazingly huge world, fully of diversity in every way. Since you’re here, you probably realize you’re in this world, too, and so I hope that this post encourages and inspires you to find the freedom to choose your own identities and to prioritize them in a manner that makes you happy, healthy, and safe.