Not the Time to be Discouraged

25 Mar

A guest post from  Jane Cawthorne.

There are a lot of things to worry about right now. Last weekend, I attended a conference on climate change. It was devastating, if unintentionally so. I left knowing that it is less likely my daughter will reach fifty years old than I will, and if she does, she will live in a world markedly different from the one I know.

I wanted to cry on the couch for a while, maybe watch movies. I didn’t. Instead, I thought about the appeal of denial. Denial is a kind of emotional haz-mat suit I like to wear when I don’t want to face what is truly terrifying. It works best when I don’t think, when I distract myself with movies or make myself so busy I can’t see past the next thing on my “to do” list. Like many people, I feel sometimes that I frantically deal with what seems urgent, but fail to see what is strategically important.

Then I started to wonder if the current frenzy of activity among anti-choicers is motivated by denial. All this focus on the fetus might be their way of forgetting that post-utero humanity is in pretty big trouble. Anti-choicers are pretty busy right now. If you read the news, Abortion seems to be the single most important issue in America, even more important than the economy, and certainly more important than climate change.

But there is more than denial at work in their fervor. We are, indeed, in a culture war. The war is not merely between Democrats and Republicans or left and right (or as I like to say, people who “get it” and people who don’t.) It is a war between patriarchy and whatever basic principle of human organization is emerging from its wreckage. For patriarchy to work, women and nature must be denied agency. Both are made “other” (and lesser) while men are linked to the divine. Women and nature exist only to serve. Of course, women have always been used by men in patriarchy, valued only for what we can provide, not for what we intrinsically are. Historically (and presently in many cases) we are subjugated within the family and, in the eyes of the most fundamentalist among us, we are baby factories producing heirs to men’s fortunes and workers for their factories. Sometimes we are allowed into the foyer of power, sometimes even into the board room. We work for their enterprises, but never in conditions that allow us to alter their course. Similarly, the natural environment is just a source of raw materials. The forest is only the trees. Worse, it is used as the dumping ground for the prolific waste that patriarchal society creates.

The anti-choicers, the climate change deniers, the union busters, the givers of corporate tax breaks, the right wing think tanks and their allies are working, literally, for the man. They work for patriarchy.

Pro-choice activists don’t work for the man. We are engaged in creating a post-patriarchal society where the rights of women are respected, where human rights include reproductive rights. We do this work in conjunction with environmental activists who know that social justice cannot exist without environmental justice. No matter what our location is in this struggle, no matter what part of the matrix of patriarchy we chip away at, we need to remember we are doing strategically vital work, and that we work with allies. It’s not a question of which work is most important, but how together, it serves to move us forward, towards justice, and not backward, towards tyranny.

Denial won’t serve us now. Neither will getting discouraged. The foundations of patriarchy are crumbling. Now is the time to keep working, to remember our allies, and to keep our vision for the future in focus.

3 Responses to “Not the Time to be Discouraged”

  1. saltyC March 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    But discouraged I do get. Especially by this:
    WHy hasn’t there been a commensurate reaction by normal people against the anti-choice onslaught? I mean by people who have sex, outside of wanting children? Doesn’t anyone connect the dots? It’s such a huge blind spot. If you accept that people have sex and that it’s a good thing, then you can’t allow this meme, that abortion is murder to perpetuate. I mean, if abortion were murder then sex would be taking a chance on murdering someone, more dangerous than driving drunk or getting someone to try heroin or cocaine. Really, if you truly believe that abortion is murder, then sex is playing with fire, and life becomes so much heavier and less joyful.
    Yet most people I know are so complacent about the onslaught and about the fact that women are being forced by lack of funds to stay pregnant. I feel so so isolated, discouraged, disgusted, depressed.
    One friend of mine, who sees nothing wrong with sex outside of procreation, said he’s “in the middle” on current anti-choice events. Then he contradicts himself by saying that it should be someone’s choice. Then I told hom about people I talked to, who had an anencephalic pregnancy but couldn’t get an abortion due yo lack of funds. He said she should be able to, well then he’s not in the middle. W-H-Y is this SO hard???

  2. Jane March 26, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    I have a lot of ideas about this. First, “they” have no worries about offending people. They take up space in public discourse in a way that we don’t and often wouldn’t dream of doing. “We” have a basic position of tolerance and respect for the opinions of others. We are less likely to be in anyone’s face about our personal ethics and morals, understanding that although they are right for us, they do not need to universally apply. That’s the basis of the great saying, “If you’re against abortion, don’t have one.” We actually respect their right to be against it, whereas they don’t respect our right to be for it. They don’t care if more than half the people in the room disagree with them. They’ll blab on and on anyway. And it is human nature to want to be with the group and not cast yourself as an outsider. So if this position seems dominant, if no one else is speaking up, we tend not to. So it is important that we do speak up. This challenge has to include the way abortion is imaged in the media. For example, any article on it shows a nine month pregnant belly. This is not when abortion is being considered by women or being performed. It leads to a false impression that is repeated over and over. A better image is a positive pregnancy test. Secondly, we don’t speak up for reasons of principle. Many on our side refuse to debate the anti-choicers from a principled position that says human rights are not up for debate. Debating the right to reproductive freedom implies that the other side is potentially valid. We would never debate the human rights of people based on their country of origin or their colour of skin. We realize this is completely wrong. So those of us who take a human rights perspective on reproductive rights won’t debate. I understand the principles involved and I respect my allies who take this position. But I think it’s important for us to recognize that the tactic is having an ill-effect on us. It leaves a vacuum in public discourse and makes people who don’t fully understand the basis of the arguments think there actually is no defense of our position. Thirdly, too many people who call themselves pro-choice use qualifications on their position, as you allude to in your comment. I think this is because they have never been challenged to really think through their position fully. “As long as it’s not used for birth control,” is an example. Unpack this and think about what it means. Abortion is birth control. I understand the hope that it will be the last choice rather than the first, if for no other reason than there are safer, less invasive and less costly ways to control fertility. But ultimately, it is birth control. Another qualifier might be in the case of rape or incest, it is okay, but not if the sex was consensual. What all these qualifiers are saying is you have limited rights to your own body, and only have those rights until you offend my personal ideas about what is appropriate. This is exactly what the anti-choice do. This is not a pro-choice perspective. Pro-choice means you fully believe, without qualification, that a woman can control her reproductive capacity. Further, in public discourse, it often seems as though this right to control fertility has no limits or is totally unregulated. For example, in Canada, it is often said that there are no laws about abortion, which implies there are no restrictions. There are restrictions, but these are medical, and not legal. The medical profession regulates best practices, as they do with any medially necessary procedures. Fourth, “they” have allied their position with family values and all things ethical and we have let that happen. It implies women who have abortions don’t care about their families which is false. Many women who terminate do so for the good of their family. The decsion to terminate can be a highly ethical and moral one and I think we make a mistake when we cede this ground to those with black and white thinking. More to say, but already too long a comment. Food for thought.

  3. Jameson March 27, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    I’ll also add that I believe abortion can actually be a merciful choice, as in the cases of women who’ve had wanted pregnancies only to find out that something went so horribly wrong that their child would only live a very short life, and spend that life in a lot of suffering before death (Anecephaly, Harlequin fetus, etc.). That there are people who would force children and their parents through that kind of hell says far more about those anti-choice anti-life people than it does about the woman who has an abortion.

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