I’m hoping I can get back into blogging; fingers crossed. In the meantime, I made this:
I’m hoping I can get back into blogging; fingers crossed. In the meantime, I made this:
“Women, it is now acknowledged, have the talent, capacity, and right ‘to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation.’ Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to ‘their ability to control their reproductive lives.’ Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman’s autonomy to determine her life’s course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.”
Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124, 171-72 (2007) (Ginsburg, J., dissenting) (citations omitted). via Notorious R.B.G.
I’ve been working on this post for almost three weeks. Given that maybe five people will read it, it’s ridiculous how long I’ve worked at this, how often I’ve rewritten, and added, and edited this post. It was supposed to be a drive-by video post, just to keep the momentum going, but it kept growing. In the meantime I’ve gone on vacation, and states keep messing with their abortion laws, and the nation’s eyes have shifted to the Zimmerman trial, Prince George, and Carlos Danger… But I still have to say this. I finally realized that I need to stop being fuzzy about abortion, need to move out of the paralysis of the Catholic feminist and figure out what exactly I stand for, and what I stand against, and why.
It’s not easy puzzling through this, fighting through the pleasant haze of moral superiority and liberal smugness to try to articulate a position. For years I’ve stayed hazily feminist on wages and birth control and lookism and patronizing bullshit, but kept dancing around abortion rights. Something changed. I have been radicalized.
The 19th amendment is less than 100 years old. The idea that women were really – honestly! – considered incapable of being trusted with the vote is staggering. Really? People walked around thinking that men were actually objectively better, more competent, superior to women? And this went on for millennia? How the hell did anybody get laid thinking like that, how did the species survive? What I’ve realized in recent weeks, though, is that there are a lot – a lot – of lawmakers in this country who actually believe that women cannot be trusted to manage their own affairs, and that they, the dysfunctional old men of state legislatures, are objectively better at it. It started, of course, with the revelation that Rick Perry thinks he understands more about Wendy Davis’s own damn life than she does. And it’s been snowballing ever since.
Let’s be clear: I find abortion appalling. It is a decision to end a life, there’s really no two ways about it. It is not defensible as a primary form of birth control, it is not the same as pulling a tooth or having your appendix out. But as a woman, and a relatively thoughtful person, I find attempts to criminalize abortion equally appalling. As soon as I start imagining scenarios, I see a million shades of gray – victims of abuse and assault, cases where the mother’s life is in danger, cases where the mother truly cannot provide for another child, cases where the child would be born with severe deformities, cases where birth control was not available, or where the available birth control failed. Even in those cases where I cannot see the difficulty in bearing the child, I realize that is only because I am not in that woman’s head, and I have no right to be in her head…. And if that’s true, then obviously I cannot make those decisions for other women. There is absolutely no one-size-fits-all, bright-line governmental solution that can possibly be fair or equitable or right. We have to trust the individual women to make the right choices for their own circumstances.
I’m sick to death of zero-sum arguments. I have no more patience for my far-left friends – who jeer that a 20-week abortion ban might just as well criminalize masturbation, because Every Sperm is Sacred, Right? – than for those on the far-right who will always side with the “innocent” fetus over the icky, complicated grown woman. So, for the record: I believe “life” begins at conception, “pregnancy” begins at implantation, but “personhood” – in the legal and moral sense – can only begin when the fetus is viable, capable of living outside the womb. As it ends up, this isn’t far from where they Supreme Court landed in Roe v. Wade.
There is a little girl in Chile, 11 years old. After being raped by her mother’s boyfriend for two years (since she was nine), she is now pregnant, in a country that simply does not allow abortions. Not for rape victims, or incest victims, or in cases where the pregnancy seriously endangers the mother’s life … and not even when, as here, one little girl’s pregnancy is all three.* That little girl will likely die – as will her rapist’s child. How is this right? How is this even open to debate? No matter how much the far right sneer that most abortions aren’t women in such dire circumstances, those circumstances do happen. And when you pass laws that result in all, or almost all, abortion providers closing, then there is no abortion available to anyone, not even that little girl – nor for the woman whose fetus dies in the womb. Nor for the adult mother of 4, who’s hemorrhaging and going to die.
Ah, you say, we’re nowhere near Chile’s ban on any and all abortions. Really? 22 states** already have some kind of ultrasound requirement before a woman can get an abortion (a clear violation of a patient’s right to refuse a procedure, and a serious ethical problem for doctors). In 12 of those states, the law explicitly mandates that there can be no abortion without the ultrasound, and five (including Wisconsin, as of a couple of weeks ago), the doctor must display and describe the image in detail (though in two of those states, the law is not in force because of court challenges). In North Dakota, a federal judge just struck down a ban on any abortion after the heartbeat is detectable by transvaginal ultrasound, as early as six weeks.*** Arkansas bans abortions at 12 weeks. South Dakota has a mandatory 72 hour waiting period – excluding weekends and holidays – and requires women to attend faith-based anti-abortion counseling (this second measure is suspended pending litigation). In Ohio, abortion providers need hospital admitting privileges and public hospitals are prevented from granting abortion providers admitting privileges. Good luck getting privileges at St. Thomas! Virginia, Texas, and several other states are forcing clinics to close by requiring them to meet the standards for ambulatory surgery centers. The depressing list goes on and on (see Salon’s excellent article The 10 Most Dangerous Places to be a Woman in America). And of course Texas is now debating its own six week abortion ban. Six weeks! Many women have no idea they are pregnant at six weeks. On the national front, Rand Paul has introduced a federal fetal personhood bill that would ban all abortions. All. No input or consideration for the mother’s personhood at all – for her health, or the circumstances under which she became pregnant. Welcome to Chile.
For all the legislators’ mock piety, none of this – NONE – has anything to do with reducing the number of abortions or fostering a “culture of life.” There is no effort to do those things that actually work – like providing access to effective, long-term birth control (IUDs and implants), which has (quelle surprise!) been proven to dramatically reduce abortion rates even among women who’d previously had abortions. There’s been no push to ensure that all schools provide students with basic, fact-based sex ed that includes information about birth control.**** And if this were about a “culture of life,” those lawmakers would be guaranteeing health care and child care, shoring up Head Start, and expanding food stamps – instead of doing the exact opposite, every time. There are so, so many things government can do to cut the number of abortions, but that’s not what legislators are doing. Birth control and sex ed empower women and poor families to take control of their own lives, and that is the opposite of what today’s GOP wants.
Texas Governor Rick Perry saw thousands of women standing up to affirm the importance of reproductive rights, but rather than thinking, for a moment, that these women might know something about their own bodies, their own rights, Perry derided them, sneering, “The louder they scream, the more we know that we are getting something done.” His goal is ending women’s autonomy; the more distressed we are, the more clear it is to him that he’s on the right track. Why else ban abortions at six weeks – women won’t know they’re pregnant, and so won’t have any say in the matter. North Carolina tacked clinic-closing measures onto legislation about motorcycle safety, in the hope that no one would notice, and they wouldn’t have the inconvenience of women standing up for themselves in protest. If you still have any doubt that this is about controlling women, consider this: North Dakota specifically bans abortions if the fetus has a genetic abnormality. You read that right. North Dakota is explicitly saying that if your child will be born without a brain, or with a condition that will lead her to die after a week or two of pain and suffering struggling to eat or breathe, you have to have that baby and watch her suffocate or starve. Because sparing your child, and yourself, and your family, that horrific pain is just not a good enough reason for an abortion, in the eyes of the men of the North Dakota legislature.
To Rick Perry, and Scott Walker, and all the Republican Governors and legislators out there hellbent on shutting down almost all facilities that provide abortions, just remember this: you may slice and dice your state to dilute the votes of blacks and Hispanics and liberal voters of every ilk… but you can’t gerrymander away the women’s vote. We are in the warp and woof of this country, and however we feel about abortion, we will not stand for being silenced, bullied, stripped of our autonomy, and ridiculed for daring to stand up for our rights. So do your worst for the next 18 months, because if you lost me on abortion, you’re going to lose us all.
* The fact that said little girl appeared on Chilean TV and said she wants to keep the baby makes no difference to how wrong it is that she HAS to. And for the record? An 11 year old is, in fact, incapable of making these decisions for herself without a great deal of guidance – because, unlike the vast majority of pregnant women, she actually is legally incompetent. And don’t even get me started about this poor child, whose own mother claims she wasn’t raped, because she had “consensual” sex with an adult man. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera may think her comments show “depth and maturity,” but judge for yourself: “‘It will be like having a doll in my arms,’ the girl whose face was obscured during the interview, told local Canal 13.” God help this child to survive the pregnancy first….
** Guttmacher’s data, as of July 1, 2013, lists 21 states, but since then Wisconsin has become the 22nd. And honestly, at the rate the GOP is moving to try to strip reproductive rights, it’s hard to keep up.
*** While the court rightly held that was clearly an “undue burden” on women’s reproductive freedom, North Dakota’s sole provider may still be forced to close by a new law requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. Hospitals only grant those privileges if a doctor agrees to refer a set number of patients a year – say, 10. But North Dakota’s sole clinic, like many many others facing similar laws in other states, almost never has to refer a patient to the hospital, and so its doctors can’t meet the state standard.
**** When one Texas Democrat suggested that sex ed might be effective in lowering unplanned pregnancies, Republican Steve Toth disagreed, claiming to know teens who got so “so hot and bothered” at “a Planned Parenthood deal” that they promptly had unprotected sex. Because diagrams of fallopian tubes are sooo sexxxay…. I can’t even. Honestly, there are still people who think if we don’t ever mention sex, no one would have sex? How do they… Gah. How do these people dress themselves, much less get elected to positions of power?
Last week, following state senator Wendy Davis’s remarkable – and successful – filibuster, Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped jaws around the world by responding:
“Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She’s the daughter of as single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas Senate. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example: that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential, and that every life matters.”
My first impulse was to marvel at Perry’s tone-deafness. Wendy Davis had become a folk-hero of women’s rights overnight, and her performance reminded everyone of what a filibuster is supposed to be: a chance to match a single lawmaker’s true passion against the majority. If you care that much, then we have to listen to you. I even like Texas’s particularly draconian filibuster rules – no leaning, no breaks, no water, no going off-topic. You can’t read the phone book; you have to talk about the subject of the bill. In that one, youtube-sensational, twitter-overloading performance, Wendy Davis had become an international superstar. Did no one on Perry’s team tell him to let things die down for a day or two? Did no one advise him to at least acknowledge her passion and commend her for taking a stand, if he couldn’t be bothered to address any of the many strong arguments she made against the bill during her filibuster? How could Perry and his team misread the situation so profoundly?
But then I went over what Perry said again, and I had a moment of horrible clarity: Rick Perry, in one sentence, laid bare the entire, misogynistic, heart of the anti-choice movement: “It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example…”
Rick Perry didn’t wait, didn’t show any deference to Ms. Davis, because he has absolutely no respect for her. He’s tone-deaf, because he really truly believes this is obvious – he is right, and she is wrong. Whatever experiences she had, whatever facts support her position, all of that is moot. Like a child being punished, she was supposed to find the moral of her story, to learn her lesson – and if the understanding she gained is empathy, and an appreciation for how complex these decisions are… well, then, she learned it wrong.
Wendy Davis grew up the child of a single mother, and pregnant at 19, found herself, in her own words, “destined to live the life that I watched my mother live.” She made a choice, to keep the child – but going through the fear, anguish, uncertainty, and stress of a teen pregnancy made her all the more empathetic to other women in similar situations. She has lived with her decision for over 30 years now. She has struggled, and she has persevered. She has raised her family. She has served her community. She has met women from all over Texas, from all walks of life. And she just finished speaking for over eleven hours, explaining why women need reproductive choice… But none of that matters to Governor Perry. Wendy Davis doesn’t understand her own damn life, he says. It’s a shame, so unfortunate. But you see, this is why we can’t trust women to make these decisions… because they might not learn the right lessons from their own lives. They might trust their own instincts, make their own choices for their own families, and where would we be then?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I believe abortion is a grave wrong. A terrible answer to a heartbreaking question. But this, precisely THIS, is why I can never ever call myself “Pro-Life” – because the pro-life movement, at it’s heart, doesn’t trust women. Doesn’t trust women with birth control in the first place. Doesn’t trust women to make choices, doesn’t trust women to control their own bodies, and doesn’t trust women to make up their own minds, based on their own experiences. It’s just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example….
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a more misogynistic sentence. It completely discounts Wendy Davis’s experience, and all that she said – all the data, all the passion, all the truths she laid bare in an eleven hour filibuster. To paraphrase Davis’s colleague, Senator Leticia Van de Putte, whose motion to adjourn was ignored by the President of the Senate, at what point will a female senator’s own life experiences be considered valid, if they conflict with the preconceived notions of her male colleagues in the room?
Women got the right to vote in the United States in 1920.
Middle class women joined the US workforce in huge numbers during World War II.
But true feminism, with the understanding of equal rights and equal dignity, did not come until the 1960s, until women were well and truly able to control when and if they would have children.
Reproductive rights are the foundation of women’s rights. Any attack on reproductive freedom is an attack on the rights and dignity of women. Period. You cannot deny access to birth control without denying women’s rights. You cannot mandate ultrasounds without attacking women’s dignity. The only way our daughters and granddaughters can have real choices about the lives they want to lead and the sort of women they want to become is for reproductive rights to move forward, never back.
Like most Catholics, I was stunned this morning by the news that Benedict XVI has announced his resignation and will soon retire to the medieval woodcut from whence he came….
All kidding aside, I applaud Benedict for having the courage to take this step. As modern medicine prolongs our lives far past our vigor, anyone in a lifetime appointment should be open to retirement; still, power is hard to walk away from. God bless Benedict for making this difficult choice, and may he have a long and peaceful life in which to read and pray and relax.
That out of the way, what on earth is the Church going to do? (FAIR WARNING: I’m departing from my usual political bent here and speaking purely as a Catholic who struggles everyday with the tension between my faith and my abhorrence for the institution.) The cardinals are being given another chance to do this right, to move the church decisively towards either obsolescence or vitality. My gut tells me that political power-games and fear of the unknown will drive the church further right, towards a zealous fundamentalist nihilism… but maybe not. I don’t believe God can simply change the minds of men who don’t want to hear Him – but I do believe that these Cardinals will be praying, a LOT, and that if they are truly open to listening, we might just get a daring charismatic modern pope who can lead a vibrant church in our shared faith. I hope I hope I hope.
It won’t be an easy task. The Catholic Church is mangled on the racks of two very different, very sick sets of twisted ideas. The first is the deluded belief that admitting mistakes would end the church’s authority. There are many many people high up in this institution who feel that acknowledging sins and errors would weaken the church. As result, horrific abuses have been buried, ignored, painted over, in the name of preserving the church. Whether it’s altar boys in Boston or unwed mothers in Ireland, entirely too many innocent people have suffered at the hands of the clergy. If the church were willing to be transparent, to denounce these abuses quickly, to work with civil authorities, it would be so much more credible than it is in its “La-La-La I-Can’t-HEAR-You!” stance.
Admitting mistakes shouldn’t end with the abuses done in the church’s name (though it should start there). The church desperately needs to fundamentally rethink its stance on pretty much everything to do with sex. How can an institution that refuses to hear from women – or even from married men – possibly get these issues right?
This is the second massive stumbling block that has to be addressed before the church can be relevant or credible again. The church’s attitude toward sexuality is the product of two thousand years of perverted understanding of human nature (thanks St. Paul! And thanks, every single church leader who came later and didn’t set this straight!). How can we hope the church will ever recognize the validity – even sanctity – of homosexual love, when it can’t even comprehend the role of sex within heterosexual marriage? By pretending that human sexuality is only for procreation, the church twists what it means that we are made in God’s “image and likeness.” Sexuality is inherent in each one of us, and expresses itself differently in each one of us throughout our lives. It’s part of our identity, how we relate to one another and the greater world. It gives us shelter from the storm, and allows us to communicate far beyond mere words. It is essential to what makes us human, to what makes us children of God. And yet the church has suggested, time and again, that sexuality is at best a necessary evil, at worst, a sign of our depravity.
It seems like an incredibly long shot, but the right leadership could still turn this around. We could start to acknowledge that sexuality is part of the divinity in us. Maybe then the church can move past its fear of women, fear of gays, and fear of the human condition; maybe then it will get past its medieval preoccupation with sex, and focus on the true message of Christ – caring for the poor, the sick, and the least of us, moving into a new millenium with a healthy understanding of our shared humanity. Besides, Pope Simone has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
Ladies and Gentlemen: the single most misogynistic statement of our time:*
You actually don’t need context to understand how appalling that is (though this is a great source if you want it). You don’t need to know that Betsy Andrea is the wife of one of Armstrong’s former teammates, or that she has maintained for years that she heard Armstrong tell a doctor that he used performance enhancing drugs, or that Armstrong retaliated by trying to destroy her credibility and end her husband’s career in cycling. You don’t need to know that she was labeled a bitter, vindictive psycho just because she wouldn’t lie for him. Even without knowing who the hell Lance Armstrong is, that is some pure-grain misogyny right there. It’s textbook:
Watching that clip, it’s obvious that smirking jerkface Lance Armstrong is being a complete douchebag here, and it would be easy to dismiss this simply as a terrible person being terrible. It goes beyond that, though – “crazy bitch” is far too common in our culture; it’s our favorite way of dismissing inconvenient women. It bears mentioning, too, because Betsy Andrea calmly and rationally asserted that Armstrong doped, for years. Even though it seems transparent now, for years the media happily bought into – and perpetuated – the slander that she was just some “crazy bitch.” (I’m sure it’s no consolation to her that if the media ever said she was fat, well, that didn’t come from Armstrong, who obviously thinks that’s the worst thing he could say about a
You know who was neither fat nor a crazy bitch? Lennay Kekua. This story has been everywhere; examined from countless angles. Jezebel and Feministing both did a great job pointing out the hypocrisy of the media being all over Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend’s imaginary death, while largely ignoring the very real suicide of a very real woman who was raped by a Notre Dame football player. Still, for all the coverage this scandal has generated, I haven’t seen any discussion of how sexist the whole construct of Lennay Kekua was in the first place.
The media bought this story unquestioningly – Lennay was held up as Manti Te’o’s inspiration, her death as a heartwarming reminder of the power of love. Lennay Kekua was beautiful. She was devoted. She was so in love with Manti that she didn’t need his comfort, his company, or his time – no, as she lay dying of cancer, all she wanted was for Manti to win football games. Apparently, no one found it odd that he was the love of her life, but she never asked him to be at her side.
Fake Lennay fake died in September – months after the fake car wreck which led to the fake discovery of her fake cancer. Their inspirational love and her tragic death were the subject of countless news stories: on ESPN’s College GameDay, Fox Sports, and CBS, in Sports Illustrated and the New York Times, the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times… and yet the truth only came out last week, ten days after Manti’s football season ended. “Te’o’s knowledge about the details of his girlfriend’s life was often murky, including her majors in school, occupation and extent of her injuries after an alleged April 28 car accident with a drunk driver.” Why didn’t that set off alarm bells with reporters? All this media around him, all these outlets repeating this heart-warming story, but even while she was “alive” no one needed to talk to her – and after her tragic (fake) death, it seems no news outlet tried to get a fuller picture of this woman.
After all, who cared what she did for a living, or majored in in school? That was all beside the point. Lennay Kekua had been the perfect girlfriend: a beautiful empty vessel whose only concern was that her boyfriend succeed. She was as undemanding in death as she was in life, telling Manti to skip her funeral so that he wouldn’t miss any football games. She didn’t have messy emotional needs, or thorny contradictory ideas, or passionate competing dreams of her own… because Lennay Kekua didn’t exist. Conveniently, not existing made her the feminine ideal. After all, imaginary girlfriends are never fat, crazy bitches.
*Excluding every single thing Rush Limbaugh has ever said about women, of course.
(I hope that this will be a resumption of regular blogging. Lord knows there’s been enough happening politically to keep me busy writing outraged entries daily, but my post-election crash ran into the holidays which ran into illness which went straight on through to a much busier new year. I think I’ve got it under control, at last.)
I’m trying to put my thoughts together, in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre. For most of the weekend, my feelings were best summed up by this article from The Onion:
“Well, I suppose we have to try to pick up the pieces and make some sort of sense of this tragedy and—you know what? Fuck it, I can’t do this,” said Connecticut resident Michael Zaleski, his remarks understandable given the circumstances, because, holy shit, what else can one say? “I’m sorry, but I can’t fucking do this. Can you? Can anyone?”
Only that bit of satire came close to expressing the horror and helplessness we all felt in the wake of this senseless, senseless tragedy. Looking for solutions beyond memes seemed impossible. And into this void stepped President Obama, doing what only a President can – expressing the feelings of the nation, mourning deeply, but demanding better. His remarks at a memorial yesterday laid the necessary foundation for the discussion we have to have, moving forward. If you haven’t heard his full speech, you owe it to yourself to give it the full 18 minutes; it’s a powerful, moving place to start.