So-called abortion party story really about health care access

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 13:53 EDT
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Via Broadsheet, I found this story about an actual so-called “abortion party”. I say “so-called”, because feminists have been joking that conservatives think we have abortion parties to celebrate the sexual pleasure of having an abortion, that we may even deliberately get pregnant just so we can abort. Because they’ll believe pretty much anything about sexually active women who aren’t submissive victims, if they can be horrified and titillated by it. As you can imagine, this actual abortion party is much more mundane, though sadly the author of the piece Byard Duncan also cannot resist the urge to scandalize the audience with stories of bad sluts who have sex and aren’t dramatically and sadly getting their due punishment of mandatory childbirth. He contrasts the party with a “classy” event to celebrate a much better woman who had a baby, and actually suggested that there was something bizarre about bringing a child to attend, which of course implies that women who have abortions hate children, in contrast to reality where most women who have abortions have children. He even portrays the impregnating individual as a lonely reject, which of course plays into the deepest, truest wingnut fear about what abortion is about: rejecting men, because they can’t imagine that you could want men without having men dominate and control your life.

I saw Maggie’s boyfriend, sitting near the kitchen, wearing rainbow suspenders and looking uncomfortably alone. As it turns out, he had been the object of a lot of vitriol from Maggie’s friends — women who thought that he should not have had anything to do with the abortion. Both he and Maggie had been saddened about this reaction because they had made the decision together. When we talked, his sentences spilled out in quick little jumbles, like scattered puzzle pieces. His eyes stayed focused on a point behind me. He looked as if he’d like to be somewhere else.

He also claims that the friends were eager to vilify the real victim here, the man being deprived of his right to exert the final control over “his” woman’s body. Duncan offers not one scrap of evidence that the women were blaming the man, or that the boyfriend in question was against the decision. He in fact says that it was mutual, and that there was no confrontation, but he imagines that there was anger and tension between these evil, nasty women and the man being deprived of his right to force a woman to bear a child on his whim. Don’t worry, he also portrays Maggie as a victim of feminist ideology, merely pretending to put on a brave face, etc. One wingnut even tried to pretend that she cared about this bullshit, though of course she was mostly eager to judge. The whole article was designed to play on wingnut myths and male fears about what it means that women have a right to reject a change you caused in their body, accidentally or not.

Frankly, I think it was clever anti-choice agitprop that benefits from being put in Alternet, where readers can convince themselves that it’s from a nominally liberal perspective. “Even the liberals know that abortion is a hate crime against men! Even the liberals know every woman wants to give up their education and dreams to have babies and marry the first guy she sleeps with!” seems to be the theme, though I’m far from sure of that. It’s not impossible that this guy is a pro-choicer who just happens to be a perfect cipher for every bullshit anti-choice claim, but I doubt it. He just hits every note that wingnuts want to hear, even though a close reading demonstrates that what he claims happened didn’t happen.

It worked, of course. This wingnut picked up details to demonize the scene that even I hadn’t considered, such as the red bedsheet they used to separate the dancefloor,* and he’s shocked that women who have had children will do things like dance and consume alcohol, when they should be at home knitting. But what threw me was the reaction from some Broadsheet bloggers. Mary Elizabeth Williams picks up on what I did, which is that the story is deceitful, that the party probably did happen, but the details come from the author’s imagination and not from reality. But Lynn Harris and Kate Harding disappoint me by passing judgment on something that seems harmless and industrious.

Tacky. Not necessarily because it’s glib about abortion, but because it’s glib about friendship. If you don’t have the money for the procedure and we all know that many women don’t, perhaps an among-friends “fundraiser” would be more gracefully conducted with a personal PayPal account and a delicately worded e-mail or quickie Web site whose URL is shown only to a select group. Not because the abortion itself should necessarily require such hush-hush discretion, but because, man, asking your friends to pony up at a party is putting them in a weird, public position…..

As for the party itself, I agree with Lynn that it rubs me the wrong way from an etiquette standpoint, but not just because being asked to subsidize an abortion might make some friends uncomfortable. More generally, when did house parties become fundraisers? In my day, if you couldn’t afford to offer dinosaur ribs and libations to all your friends, you threw a BYOB potluck — you didn’t charge a freakin’ cover to get into your living room. I just fundamentally don’t like this idea that we’re all entitled to hand our friends a bill for the pleasure of our company.

Actually, rent parties and the like developed in no small part because they’re more polite than just begging for money. The idea is you work for the cash by hosting a party, and everyone feels better about chipping in because they got some fun out of it, too. That the need for cash in this case was for an abortion makes it more scandalous, but the practice of throwing rent parties or health care parties has been around as long as I can remember, and I don’t think it’s tacky. It’s a way for people that are in financial straits to stand up for their own humanity, declaring that just because you’re broke doesn’t mean that you should become a social pariah, a person people associate with unpleasant begging instead of pleasant party-throwing. Amy Benfer picks up on the real story here, which is the fact that rent parties are actually turning into health care parties—hardly a month goes by in Austin that I don’t see “party to raise money for some musician’s medical bills” advertisements—tells us more about the need for health care than the bad manners of the paycheck-to-paycheck set.

Being a music geek, I have to point out that money-raising parties were instrumental in music history, besides helping keep Austin-area musicians out of bankruptcy. If you read Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, you’ll see what I mean. Afrika Bambaataa really developed his DJing skills by doing a lot of house parties that charged a cover, to have fun, yes, but to make money, too. According to the Wikipedia, the term “rent party” developed in 1920s Harlem, and rent parties were instrumental in helping develop the jazz sound. It strikes me as very narrow to view this sort of thing as mercenary, because my take on it, having seen, attended, and read about such parties, is that they’re more about community-building and definitely about taking a negative thing (piling bills) and turning it into a positive (fun parties).

*He’s comically shocked that such a perverted item has ever existed, which is awesome, because this perverted feminist used to have red sheets she bought from Penney’s. Yes, good, old-fashioned American department stores where they allow conservatives to shop without warning them stock red bedsheets. Of course, most people involved don’t seem to think much of them besides, “They’ll go well with the red bedspread.” Obviously, harlotry is so ingrained we don’t realize the color red unnaturally inflames the senses.

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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