In the United States, we’ve carried over ideas about maidens, bastards, and the immortality of sexual women, without the social structure it was meant for. We kept all male inheritance, for a time, but without the titles and holdings of lordly Europeans. The notion that a bride must be virginal so her husband can be sure any children she bears are his is antiquated indeed in a time of accurate paternity testing. In a modern world of adoption, stepfathers, and women legally able to own property, the old ideas are increasingly out of place.
The twentieth century saw the advent of more affordable and effective contraception, from the barrier devices like the diaphragm and latex condom to hormonal birth control. Emergency contraception taken after unprotected sex was developed and approved. The case Griswold v. Connecticut granted the right of married couples to use contraception, and later cases granted it to the rest of us.
Since the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, abortion has been legal in the first trimester, and increasingly less legal after that. But men an awful lot like Anthony Comstock are doing everything they can to roll back hard won rights to birth control and abortion. They want to preserve the property rights of old, when a woman was owned by her father or husband but never herself. Freedom and opportunity for women and bastards threatens them. They keep the social stigma against children born out of wedlock high, even in a modern US where about ninety percent of young people have sex before marriage.
Now as ever, the laws and customs surrounding these rules of sex are meant to control women and women’s fertility. We do not scream at men to “keep their legs closed” and men are free to abandon not only their bastards but their claimed children too. Just ask a typical divorced mom, owed thousands in child support she will likely never see. I had a “shotgun wedding” just ten years ago because I feared my son feeling the shame of being a bastard. All it did was make it legally harder for me to leave the father when he became abusive. My son inherits no land or title for my efforts.
We need to get rid of these poisonous cultural concepts. All children should be provided and cared for, not simply those claimed by men of means. Inherited wealth and poverty are choices humans make that other humans suffer for. Women are neither incubators nor property, but humans with ranging sex drives and practical and intimate needs. Sex does not make women impure, and DNA tests are a much better method of establishing paternity than inquisitions. We need to dump our sexist sexual baggage and stop punishing children for the “sins” of their mothers.