Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary

My article, “Why the Sexual Revolution Needed a Sexual Revolutionary,” is now available at The Atlantic. I write about Helen Gurley Brown’s influence in the Sexual Revolution and the revolutionary character of her agenda in her own times. Conservative Christians sometimes assume that massive cultural changes are inevitable in some sense, but such movements are actually inseparable from the individuals who push the boundaries and shift the consensus. The overturn of a sexual morality that had survived intact for thousands of years was made possible by individuals willing to scandalize the public, while creating a new setting for the cultural and moral norm.

Helen Gurley Brown was a pioneer of sorts, who intended to overthrow traditional sexual morality. To a considerable degree, she succeeded. She also lived long enough to see the Sexual Revolution reach far beyond her vision in 1962, when Sex and the Single Girl was published.

A review of her life and influence helps us to understand how a moral revolution happens — and at what cost.

From the essay:

The revolutionaries of sexual liberation would include some who did not live to see the transformation in full fervor, such as Alfred Kinsey (d. 1956) and Margaret Sanger (d. 1966). But the leading agents of the sexual revolution came from the generation who reached cultural influence just as the movement began to crystallize. This generation would include both Hugh Hefner (b. 1926) and Helen Gurley Brown (b. 1922).

1960 also marked the advent of The Pill. The first authorized prescriptions for the oral contraceptive came that very year, and that one little pill changed the moral landscape, separating sex and reproduction with chemical ease. The Pill was first made available only to married women, but that changed quickly.

When Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl hit the bookstores in 1962, it lit a firestorm of controversy. A former advertising writer, then recently married to a leading Hollywood producer, Helen Gurley Brown dared to scandalize the nation, virtually inventing the “single girl” as a cultural category. Brown urged young women to see themselves as empowered by sex, money, and men—but without any need for the traditional commitment to marriage.

Her argument was so scandalous at the time that no major publisher would touch the book. The bookstores were filled with books offering advice to young wives and mothers, but Helen Gurley Brown was openly inventing a new cultural category, the sexually liberated single girl.

The full essay is available at The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/08/why-the-sexual-revolution-needed-a-sexual-revolutionary/261492/

Shall We Die as a Fool Dies?

For many years I have been captivated by King David’s lament over Abner in 2 Samuel 3. It framed a fitting text for my 2012 Opening Convocation Address at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary: “Shall We Die as a Fool Dies?”

Gore Vidal and the Sky God

The death of author and controversialist Gore Vidal last week brought an end to one of America’s most gifted and flamboyantly offensive literary voices. Eugene…

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The Case of the Lesbian Den Mother: Moral Reasoning Exposed

By now, most Americans have probably heard of the lesbian mother forced out as a den mother for the Tiger Scouts, a program for first-graders offered by the Boy Scouts of America. For a few days, the story filtered through the Internet until it broke as an Associated Press article last week.

That article by reporter John Seewer reveals that Jennifer Tyrrell had been serving as a leader in Ohio Pack 109 of the Tiger Scouts. Tyrrell was forced to leave that post when officials of the Boy Scouts learned that she was a lesbian. The Boy Scouts of America have had a clearly stated policy against homosexuals serving as adult leaders, though that policy has usually been applied to men.

As a private organization, the Boy Scouts has the legal right to exclude both gays and lesbians from membership and leadership. That right was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, but that has not ended the controversy. Since that decision, the Boy Scouts have paid dearly for the policy, as some cities and other governments and institutions have severed support and relationships with the BSA and its local programs.

Now, the controversy is focused on Tyrrell, whose reinstatement is now demanded by gay rights organizations and some of the parents of the boys involved in the Bridgeport, Ohio troop. At least some of those parents knew that Tyrrell was a lesbian, while others did not. In any event, she has become the center of a national debate.

The Boy Scouts of America has the right to establish policies consistent with its convictions. Indeed, the group’s policy of excluding homosexuals from leadership would seem to be necessary and prudent. A consideration of recent national scandals should make that point sufficiently clear.

No one is charging Jennifer Tyrrell with any improper action or motivation in this case, but the Scouts applied their policy and the controversy is now incredibly revealing.

One parent said this: “I teach my children to judge people on their actions . . . whether you agree with their lifestyle or not.”

The only way to make sense of this is to see that this parent is trying to separate “actions” from “lifestyle” as if the lifestyle should be free from moral scrutiny. Lifestyles involve actions, but those are now to be considered beyond moral judgment.

Oddly enough, this rather bizarre form of thinking is indicative of a larger cultural pattern. Sexual relationships are off-limits for moral judgment. What is left is a far smaller sector of moral investigation. Once sexual behavior is removed from moral scrutiny, what will be declared off-limits next?

As one observer recently noted, our society is exchanging moral concern about sex for moral concern about diet. We are not sure that moral judgments should be made when it comes to sexual behaviors, but when it comes to free range chickens and excess carbohydrates, the moral categories kick in.

The Boy Scouts of America is a venerable and noble organization, and one that deserves our support. Given the kind of opposition it now faces, that support will be needed.

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