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A study in contrasts

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 13:40 EDT
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Jill at IBTP posted on this billboard, and Lisa at Sociological Images picked it up, and what I found fascinating about Lisa’s post is she didn’t mentioned what these ads are for. Obviously, this is a crisis pregnancy center ad. You don’t even have to look it up to see that it is. All these ads follow the same formula—young woman, looking down or away shamefacedly for her sluttiness, with language indicating that you, the reader who is in trouble, is scared and completely alone. Jill asks why it has to be this way.

The world’s uteruses are owned by the state. This means the world’s women are owned by the state. Unapproved pregnant women who aren’t claimed by a state-licensed nuclear family replicator (husband) are required to be scared shitless.

Her point is that this is true regardless of what you might decide. She also amusingly points out that the ads for the group that put this together imply that every pregnancy that ends in abortion would have ended in rocket scientists and perfect-looking heroes, but alas, we don’t get to have those people because sluts are so selfish.* Lisa picks it up and doesn’t mention that this ad is for a crisis pregnancy center:

It had never occurred to me before that a generalized fear of getting pregnant is a culturally and historically contingent state of mind. But, of course, it is.

What I’d like to add to this is that it’s not a coincidence that crisis pregnancy centers choose this imagery, and while they definitely rely on the larger culture’s judgment and abuse of sexual women, particularly unapproved pregnant women, the foremost reason they invariably choose the pathetic imagery is that’s what they think of women who have sex, at least if you’re young and unmarried and have a ripe uterus juicy for swiping babies out of to give to worthy straight couples. It’s been noted plenty of times before, but worth mentioning again—while there’s definitely a misogynist undercurrent that motivates the anti-choice movement, because they want to PUNISH PUNISH PUNISH the sluts, after 30 plus years of doing this shit, they’ve realized that the only way that they can even begin to be taken seriously is to pretend that they care about women. So what they do is construct this worldview (which has been effective at duping true believers, which is why you’re seeing young people joining the bitter middle-aged men to scream hatred at “counsel” women trying to enter clinics that provide abortion) where women are assumed to be extremely weak and stupid, without any moral sense at all, who are merely pawns and ciphers for male desires. And if a woman gets latched onto by the “wrong” men controlling her—men who will have sex with you despite knowing that no woman actually enjoys sex, abortion providers—she will do things like use birth control or have abortions that go against her nature and make her sad. Nature and god want the mindless automaton to be a chipper housewife providing sex, children, and service to a man who is a good patriarch, not off having sex without fundamentalist approval.

The imagery they choose reflects this belief that women who are pregnant without automatically being overjoyed by it are being controlled by the improper authorities. The billboards imply that you can get relief from your fear by going to them. That is unwashed horseshit. The primary persuasion mechanism to move the mindless bot from being controlled by the improper men to the authority of god-fearing men is fear. They tell you that abortion will maim and kill you, or leave you permanently scarred for life, and they tell you that condoms will give you butt cancer or whatever other thing is that they’re on about that week.

What’s interesting, to me at least, is contrasting the ads for crisis pregnancy centers with the ads for clinics that provide abortion. Well, first of all, you see a lot more of the former, since clinics that provide abortion have to put most of their money into their daily operations and keeping their prices low, and crisis pregnancy centers don’t offer any real services, but are just propaganda outlets disguised as service. But occasionally you see the latter. I don’t have clips of any billboards, bus ads, or newspaper ads, but the pictures on the websites for Austin clinics are a fair representation of how they choose to represent women who come to them.

Not shamefaced, nor are they broken victims. They look straight into the camera without shame, and sometimes are even smiling and laughing. It couldn’t be a more different choice.

There’s a lot of talk of common ground with anti-choicers now, trying to get them to agree that birth control is acceptable, and maybe there’s a few who both care deeply about abortion reduction and have no problem with birth control, but I’m skeptical, and for reasons like the one I’ve outlined above. Our very conception of what women are and can be couldn’t be more different. I’ve yet to speak to an abortion provider that doesn’t take to heart the idea that their job is about helping women own their choices and take responsibility for themselves and their lives, no matter whether they choose abortion or to have a baby. (Which of course is the choice on the hands of a woman who goes to a clinic that provides abortion.) But social conservatives object to the idea that women are moral creatures imbued, as men are, with the ability to take responsibility and make choices. That’s why a sexual woman is inevitably portrayed as an out of control hussy that’s a real danger to the social order, or, more commonly nowadays, as a broken victim who didn’t actually choose to have sex so much as she was shuffled into it because she didn’t have the proper paternal protection.

I joke a lot about how objections to abortion and birth control are based in the belief that women should be punished, and that’s true, but I also think there’s just a primal, knee-jerk reaction against these things from everyone who has anti-choice tendencies, because they are a reminder that women can and do make choices, take responsibility, have control—that we’re not just passive creatures, or at least we don’t have to be. You really see this panic bubble up in the paranoia about how women are “cheating” the controls put on them to keep them passive, by lying about mental health issues to obtain late term abortions,** or the equally widespread if better concealed paranoia that teenage girls fake severe adolescent menstrual symptoms in order to get on the pill and sneak past parental authority. Whether or not the latter happens a lot,*** the violently angry and paranoid reaction about it isn’t justified, since the result from such a parent-coddling deception is that you don’t get pregnant. (If only all parent-coddling deceptions worked out so well!) But the paranoia is there, and again, I think it’s just that knee-jerk freakout at even the possibility that women are taking the reins of their own lives and making their own damn decisions.

*I’ve pointed out before that since being in the anti-choice movement is so all-consuming, everything is about birth control and abortion after a certain point for the followers. Their loneliness is obliquely blamed on women who don’t take on the risk of having a baby every time they have sex. They often wax poetic about all the friends they don’t have because of abortion, which makes a sane person ask if it’s not their rancid personalities that cause them to be so friendless, since the U.S. is not a population-free desolate wasteland. Well, maybe it is in the Midwestern areas that breed rapid anti-choice nuttery.

**Of course, this assumes that women are so lazy and base that they wait until they’re 7 months pregnant and then say, “Oh yeah, I need to get that taken care of.”

***You don’t have to fake the symptoms, because in a lot of teenage girls, they’re quite real. But you might be thinking that works out well, because you were going to have sex anyway.

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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