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Fact is, people have no idea what’s even going on

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, May 18, 2009 13:20 EDT
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Back from Europe, broke and tired, but super glad to be home. Anything important happen while I was gone?

Just kidding! While I didn’t have time to write, I was able to follow some of the stuff going on back home, and was disappointed to find that there was a flare-up of feminism-related stuff that just so happened to rise up while I was on vacation. Unsurprisingly, Ross Douthat got to work right away at his new gig at the NY Times by writing columns based on the assumption that women aren’t human beings. Quoth the Douchebag:

The pro-life movement is arguably more comfortable with the language of rights and liberties than its opponents. Abortion foes are defending a right to life grounded in the Declaration of Independence, after all, whereas pro-choicers are defending more nebulous rights (privacy, autonomy, etc.) supposedly grounded in “penumbras” and “emanations” from the Constitution.

This only makes sense if you assume that it’s stupid and foolish to assume that women are human beings with rights. Sure, he tries to evade that by making fun of the existence of the entire profession of judging, on the grounds that judges come up with arguments too complicated for the wee brains of anti-choice nuts, which I suppose is true enough but says more about nuts than the weakness of the decisions. But his argument is the same one you always hear—sperm and fetuses have rights, but women don’t. Women can be safely regarded as breeding machines instead of people with the basic right not to be forced to give birth against their will. Also, women aren’t people, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with making sure they have the same right enjoyed by men to have a sexuality and medical care at the same time.

Frankly, there’s little doubt in my mind that weenies like Ross Douthat only think they’re more moral on these issues because they’re bigger prudes. Why else would he link gay rights with abortion, if the sole and only reason (amen) that anti-choicers are against abortion is BAYBEEZ? That’s nonsense. It is and always has been about Teh Sexx. And a bunch of fags and bitches who do it without Douthat personally signing off on it, not that he would.

In other news that’s even more infuriating than the fact the the NY Times is willing to run editorials based on the assumption that women aren’t full human beings is this: Gallup released a poll showing that a majority of Americans call themselves “pro-life”, which is of course going to grist for the misogynist mill from here until the end of time, even if other polls in the future show a trend in the opposite direction.

The problem with the poll is a simple one: People have no fucking clue that “pro-life” means “wants to ban abortion and at least the most popular forms of pregnancy prevention, if not all kinds of contraception”. Even on just the abortion issue, the polling data shows this—51% of Americans say they’re “pro-life”, but 53% of Americans want abortion to be legal in some cases. And even that question tends to be confusing for people, because what does “some” mean? People tend to ground the issue of abortion in their own personal judgments about who’s a dirty slut and who’s a good, deserving woman, and they aren’t considering that the law doesn’t really have a great metric for measuring sluttiness. Also, the anti-choice movement has been able to install the lie about “abortion until birth” as a legal right, exploiting the fact that a) that doesn’t happen, no matter how much anti-choice nuts prefer to believe a full term pregnancy is 25 weeks* and b) abortions done at half term or even slightly later are all medically indicated, and are exactly the sort of therapeutic abortions that even squishy people who are semi-forced childbirth would support.

All the polling data reasonably measures is people’s prejudices about female sexuality, not really their stance on actual policy. In a sense, it’s sort of amazing that as many Americans call themselves “pro-choice” as Gallup measured, because decades of anti-feminist rhetoric has made that word nearly as dirty as “feminist”. With all the recent resurgence in sexual prudery (coupled of course with the exact same amounts of sexual activity), this polling data doesn’t strike me as odd at all. If anything, it concerns me that it’s just the tip of a larger iceberg of people retreating from having healthy attitudes about sex and women’s health. The urge to label yourself “pro-life” comes from the same place where you go to the store to buy condoms, but since they’re behind the counter, you lose the nerve to ask for them, and skulk out to hope that pulling out will do the trick.

But it’s more than that, of course. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of “The Soup”, but I get the strong impression that Americans are being subject to ever-escalating scare tactics about female sexuality, from the reality show emphasis on skanky chicks to stories about “sexting” to the fact that a major political candidate had an unmarried pregnant teenage daughter, which I do believe is a big time first for us. “Pro-life” is about controlling that, pushing women towards wife and motherhood, where their behavior sets more people at ease. That said, I must emphasize that a good number of people who claim to be “pro-life” want to accomplish this goal through social pressure, not through legal force. Unfortunately for them and for us, their willingness to sign onto that label means they’ve given the organized misogyny movement a weapon to strike against basic human rights.

The podcast I posted last Monday (since I was on vacation, there won’t be one this week) deals a lot with this issue. We talk in depth about how people don’t experience the “pro-choice” or “pro-life” labels they are encouraged to wear. For instance, you’ll meet a lot of women who say, “I believe it should be a right, but I wouldn’t have one.” These women may or may not call themselves “pro-life”, and they may or may not actually get an abortion. (Many do, figuring they’re the exception to the stereotype they have about who gets abortions.) The problem is that people are encouraged to lay judgment on the million plus women a year who get abortions, because they think they don’t know them (they often do), and feel free to assume the worst about them. But that’s all this poll really measured, and it’s irrelevant on many levels to making policy.

There was also all this stuff about the new online women’s magazine Double X, but I think this post has gone on long enough, don’t you?

*It’s 40, but you really wouldn’t know from anti-choice wanking.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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