Celibacy: Everyday Presentations

Thu, 14 Dec 1995 10:31:39 CST

Kathleen Gillogly mentions rejection of males as a form of protest
against patriarchy, what she terms "political celibacy." This
interesting phenomenon seems somewhat ambiguous in terms of my typology:
it could be classed as a special form under the existing heading of
Sexual Preference; alternatively, a fifth type could be added, which I
would suggest calling either "Sexual Politics" or "Sexism Protest"
(either of which would respect the mnemomic fact that the existing four
forms all begin with "S"). My focus is on reasons people express for
being unmarried; and I confess I don't recall ever hearing anyone refer
spouselessness, of self or other,to anti-patriarchalism. Still, I can
readily believe Kathleen's report of such explanations. It occurs to
me that male feminists as well as female ones might use such an
explanation; and it occurs to me further that it would be possible, in
theory, for male spouselessness to be explained as a protest against
"creeping matriarchalism." Now, emic explanations like these really do
not seem well captured by the term "Sexual Preference" (though the
explanations might in some cases be disguising actual sexual preference
directly or through reaction-formation; actual social failure; or some
combination of the two); that term, after all,has come to connote sexua
lity rather narrowly, and probably would be taken to mean that the
person was physically aroused mainly by consexuals, not that they
necessarily feel oppressed by the other sex. "Sexism Protest," then,
would refer to explanations the content of which stressed not attraction
to the same sex, but oppression by the opposite one. This leaves five
forms of everyday explanations of celibacy: (1) Social Failure, (2)
Spiritual Victory, (3) Sexual Preference, (4) Sexism Protest, and (5)
Statistical Fluke. On three other points: I think
economic-functionalist explanations of clerical celibacy, such as those
by Goody (thanks to Ruby Rohrlich for the reference) and White, are
scientific rather than everyday; if they are on the right track (and I
am not sure they are, since viable alternatives, such as Freud's in
Civilization and Its Discontents, are available),Spiritual Victory
appears as a kind of ideology or false consciousness. Second, I appreci
ate John Bosley's definitional and methodological contributions to this
thread; I had consulted dictionaries before proposing my typology, but
failed to mention having done so. Third, I would like to mention that
Douglass St. Christian's typology, though it *refers* to behavior,
discriminates its types mainly on the basis of motives for behavior. I
think this adds to methodological difficulties in its application; but
at any rate he is dealing with voluntary refusal of sexual intimacy
rather than with everyday explanations of spouselessness; so our efforts
by no means come into direct opposition. --Bob Graber