The Party's Over | Catholic World Report | Interview
Mary Eberstadt on men, women, and what the sexual revolution has wrought
“No single event since Eve took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception,” writes Mary Eberstadt in the introduction to her new book Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution (Ignatius). A research fellow at the Hoover Institution and consulting editor to Policy Review, Eberstadt’s writings have appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and online journals, including First Things, the Weekly Standard, National Review, National Review Online, the Claremont Review of Books, and the Wall Street Journal. Her previous books include The Loser Letters: A Comic Tale of Life, Death, and Atheism (Ignatius). She recently spoke with CWR about her latest book, the far-reaching consequences of the sexual revolution, and what the Catholic Church has to offer in today’s debates over birth control and in the still-raging battle of the sexes.
Catholic World Report: In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, retired law professor Louise G. Trubek wrote, “Can we still be arguing about a woman’s ability to control her own fertility?” How is your book a response to that sort of attitude? Do we really need to being arguing over contraceptives? Isn't that a matter of private choice and personal preference?
Mary Eberstadt: It is indeed fascinating that America is arguing over contraceptives. But pace certain retired law professors, the deeper meaning of that argument is not what the fear-mongers say it is. Torquemada 2.0 is not about to go slinking into college dormitories, filching pills and condoms from cowering college students. That’s not what this argument is about.
The argument is instead over something much larger. In the short term, as many have pointed out, and in the specific matter of the HHS mandate, it is indeed an argument over religious freedom. Many capable people, starting with certain other law professors and including the US bishops, have explained the dispute over the HHS mandate clearly and well.
Beyond that, though, there is an even wider meaning to the manifest unease over these issues that everyone thought settled. That is the legacy of the sexual revolution, whose consequences in one realm after another are only beginning to be understood. As the founder of Harvard’s sociology department, Pitirim Sorokin, once observed, it is a revolution that in the long run may have more influence on the world than any other—and we’re only beginning to understand it.
In that sense—and in a way that the sexual liberationists and their allies really don’t get—it doesn’t matter where you stand on the matter of religion. You could be a Wiccan. You could be a Carmelite. You could be Lady Gaga’s biggest fan. No matter what, you are still affected by the sexual revolution in more ways than can be counted—economically, politically, personally, and otherwise, for reasons I try to explain in the book.
I’m just pointing out that to say the sexual revolution amounts to a “woman thing” is absurd. And this is true leaving aside the question of morality altogether. One way or another, regardless of where individuals stand, the Western world and the rest of the world will have to grapple with the legacy of the revolution—and not just now, but centuries from now. Reducing this enormous phenomenon to something personal, a mere matter of women’s prerogatives, is just that: indefensibly reductionist.
CWR: Why do so many people—especially (but not only) those secular elites who dress themselves in the cloaks of science and reason—either ignore or deny outright both the statistical and anecdotal evidence demonstrating the serious personal and social damage wrought by the sexual revolution?