Paul gives us a brilliant Humean analysis of Stephen Fry’s (misconstrued?) comments on women’s sexuality. Women’s sexual reticence, he says, is an “artificial virtue” - the product of men’s desire to ensure that the children they spend money upon are in fact their own:
Hume is adamant that society inculcates women into being modest and celibate because this is in the interests of men who want to make sure the women they impregnate aren’t sleeping around.
All that’s missing from this is some empirical evidence.
Don’t panic. I’m not going to offer personal anecdotes here (suffice to say that this is one of my Desert Island Discs). Instead, I refer you to these papers by Jeremy Greenwood.
The principle here is straightforward. If norms repressing women’s sexuality arise from men wanting to ensure that the children they raise are their own, we would expect to see two things.
First, that this norm would be stronger where the cost of raising children is greater. This would (traditionally) be in wealthy families, where men bore the cost of school fees and the bequeathing of property. So the stigma attached to wealthy women sleeping around would be greater than for poor women: think of the plight of Lady Mary in Downton Abbey.
Secondly, as contraception improves, the link between sex and child-bearing breaks down, and so - with a time lag - the norm against sleeping around should also diminish.
Greenwood shows that both of these are in fact the case. Hume’s theory, then, seems to fit the evidence.
This isn’t just a vindication of Hume. In showing that the strength and decline of heteronormative patriarchy arises from economic and technological conditions, it is also corroboration of Marx’s theory that:
The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.