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Duly Noted

Monday, Dec 16, 2013, 6:00 pm

Making Fun Of Purity Culture Is Feminist

By Lindsay Beyerstein

Pure tax exemption.   (Waiting for the Word/Flickr/Creative Commons)

Slate pundit Matthew Yglesias drew feminist ire last week for an off-color tweet promoting a post about Paul Ryan’s hypocrisy on the budget deal. “Here’s how Paul Ryan is like a girl doing oral and anal to keep her promise ring,” the business and liberal economics blogger tweeted.

Yglesias’ language was crass, but his underlying analogy is sound. The budget deal allows Ryan to preserve his fiscal purity by not technically raising taxes. Instead, taxpayers will simply pay more in user fees. 

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Yglesias elaborates:

Democrats used to say they would insist on tax increases doing a fair share of the work of deficit reduction. Republicans hate tax increases, so we used to get no deals of any kind. But this deal works because both sides have agreed to exploit a little semantic ambiguity around what exactly constitutes a "tax increase." Officially, the deal has no tax increases. Instead it hikes "user fees" of various kinds. So, for example, the "fee" assessed to air passengers to pay for aviation security will be increased. But no taxes will be raised.

The joke was at the expense of so-called purity culture, not at the expense of girls or women. Some critics accused Yglesias of making fun of sexually active females. That wasn’t his point at all. The joke lies in the absurdity of having sex and still calling yourself a virgin. Note that Yglesias approves of the budget deal. He’s not saying Paul Ryan is wrong to raise taxes, he’s saying Ryan is ridiculous for raising taxes and calling it something else.

Besides which, the conservative cult of female virginity is thoroughly sexist and utterly irrational. By setting an unreasonable standard of chastity for girls, abstinence-only education encourages legalistic interpretations that go against the supposed spirit of the enterprise.

Purity is an ideal that conservatives use to control and degrade women. Progressives should make fun of social norms that objectify women by reducing them to vessels for baseless quasi-religious notions of sexual purity. Laughing at these ideas is the first step towards rejecting them.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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