John Milbank, an Anglican theologist and a skeptic of secular reason, claims that
The problem here is that self-pleasure can become either explicitly or tacitly a goal in itself. When the romantics earlier spoke of the importance of marriage being “free,” that seems to me nearer the mark, as a goal. Human fulfillment lies more in the direction of faithful love and inserting oneself in the continuity of generations. Marriage and the family, for all their corruption and misuse, are at base democratic institutions. Fascism for me comes into the picture because I think (following Adorno, amongst others) that the gradual separation of sex from procreation is regarded naively if we do not realize that this is what the state wants. Covertly, it wants to secure “Malthusian” control over reproduction and to deal with the individual directly, rather than through the mediation of couples. Much of liberal feminism is actually, in practice, on the side of economic and political neoliberalism. It is too rarely noticed that sexual permissiveness has today become a kind of opiate that covertly reconciles people to the loss of other freedoms—both in relation to the state and to the workplace.Milibank's offers a solution to this:
What we need is not a return to former legal coercion and social ostracism in the sexual field, but a change in ethos, which will promote both relational fidelity and the encouragement of human creativity and participation in the workplace and in civil life.(Full article here)
First of all, let me laugh at the notion that marriage, according to the church, was ever supposed to be a democratic institution. Yes, perhaps if you believe in elitism and that men's intellect is superior, or if you believe that women should never have been granted suffrage. The woman, according to the Bible, is responsible for the original sin, she screwed up the entire world, if it weren't for her, there would still be a Paradise. It is because of the evolvement of a secular society women have been able to be regarded as equals in a marriage. Religion is not exactly known for its progressive views on female emancipation and equality.
This brings me to what I want to discuss, Milbank's blaming of sexual liberalisation and the feminist movement as the culprit in the loss of freedoms both in society and the workplace. Now, I am not entirely sure exactly what kinds of freedom he is referring to here. As far as I know, sexual liberalisation has empowered women, not restrained them, in that they are the (or are supposed to be) the ultimate decision-makers in regards to their own bodies and should be regarded on equal terms with men. Women have gone from being regarded as a commodity to being regarded as active agents in their own lives. What we can agree on however, Milbank and I, is that women are (still) suffering a restriction of freedom. I believe, to the contrary, that this is related to the incompletion of female sexual liberalisation.
There is no doubt that society has liberalised its view on sexual relations since the 1960s. Women are free to choose today, they are free to express themselves in a way that simply would not have been possible not too long ago. However, women are still to a large degree restricted in their sexuality. It has been discussed ad nauseam, I am aware, but let me reiterate: when a woman racks up her numbers, perhaps from being single for a very long time or just from enjoying sex, then she is a slut; when a man racks up the same numbers, or even higher ones, he is just a bachelor (or not) who adheres to his natural urges. Women are still presumed to not have the same sexual needs or demands as men, and are still judged for not choosing to be virginal, calm and focusing on the emotional bond rather than the sexual.
There is a double standard in society regarding women's sexual liberalisation. Women are expected to be ruthless, almost adopt masculine traits to reach the status in society that has formerly belonged only to men, but at the same time she is being punished for it. A woman who has casual sex is not simply itching a scratch, she is the emotionless bitch-hound from hell, a man is an asshole but only assumed to be one in a billion, incurable and as natural as the rain. Society still has this notion that it is on some level unnatural for women to be fully sexually liberalised. A woman who openly has a lot of casual relations will be punished in the opinion of society, a man will not to the same extent.
A return to the old ethos of sexual restriction will not change this. For it is a return, not a change. Women will once again be chained in their gender roles of subservience and obedience while men continue to go about their business as they have always done. It will not automatically lead to "the encouragement of human creativity and participation in the workplace and in civil life," because sexual liberalisation and these are not mutually exclusive. A person, whether male or female, can still be sexually liberated and fulfil their duties and responsibilities as citizens and employees.
The problem here is not the liberalisation in itself, but rather the social ostracism, that Milibank argues we should not revert back to, that is still very much present in female sexual liberalisation. It is because of this double standard in female sexual liberalisation that women suffer from loss of freedom in the social life as well as the workplace. It is the judgement of what people get up to in private that still restricts women. Moreover, it is quite evident from Milibank's stance on gay marriage that it is not the sexual liberalisation per se that is the problem for him, it is the religious values that he has chosen to put into it. I quote: "As part of this, I think it is important both to support gay civil partnerships and yet to oppose the idea of “gay marriage.”"
The loss of freedoms are always going to be present as long as women's value is determined according to how well they adhere to prescribed traditional gender roles. What needs to be acknowledged are the contradictions between theory and practice in the discussion of sexual liberalisation, and the fact that it is still very much gendered. These losses are not anything that came as a consequence of the female sexual liberalisation, they have always been there. It is because the female sexual liberalisation is incomplete that they still exist.